Oxford scientists welcome breakthrough in dementia

Oxford scientists hail major breakthrough that could bring relief to 900,000 Britons with dementia

  • Researchers at Neuro-Bio in Oxford have made a significant discovery
  • They have examined a previously unnoticed part of the brain
  • Scientists have identified a “neurotoxic” chemical that causes dementia
  • Once the chemical was identified, scientists devised a way to neutralize it

British scientists believe they may have discovered the first effective treatment for it dementia.

Researchers from Neuro-Bio, a biotech company spun out of the University of Oxfordsay their potential cure is likely to succeed where other treatments have failed because it addresses changes in the brain that were previously ignored.

The scientists say they have identified a “neurotoxic” chemical that triggers the early stages of the degenerative condition and have developed a treatment that can neutralize it.

On Tuesday, Neuro-Bio will announce results from initial trials of the treatment in mice showing it is effective. Baroness Susan Greenfield, one of the scientists behind the research, says the results will herald a paradigm shift in treating the condition.

Scientists at Oxford have identified a “neurotoxin” that triggers the degenerative process that leads to dementia. After discovering the chemical, they devised a method to neutralize its effects

Almost 900,000 people have dementia in the UK - a number expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.  Almost 70,000 Britons die from the disease each year

Almost 900,000 people have dementia in the UK – a number expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. Almost 70,000 Britons die from the disease each year

Almost 900,000 people have dementia in the UK – a number expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. Almost 70,000 Britons die from the disease each year.

Doctors are still unsure what causes the condition and there is currently no effective treatment to slow its progression.

Neuro-Bio’s drug is a departure from the techniques used by drug companies for dementia therapies, which typically focus on one feature of the disease, amyloid plaques — protein deposits that build up in the brain and impair memory and cognitive function . However, recent studies have not been able to show that patients’ symptoms improved after taking drugs that destroy plaques.

Baroness Greenfield says: “The majority of scientists have long believed that amyloid plaques are the cause of the disease. However, we believe that amyloid plaques build up well after brain degeneration begins.

“That’s why these treatments fail — by the time you see plaques, the horse has passed.”

Administered as a nasal spray, Neuro-Bio’s treatment focuses on cells in the center of the brain, the isodendritic nucleus. Studies have shown that these cells are the first to start dying in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia – often 10 to 15 years before showing symptoms.

“When these cells die, it triggers a snowball effect that causes more and more cells to die as well,” says Baroness Greenfield.

While scientists are still unsure as to why this process starts, Neuro-Bio claims to have found a molecule called T14 that is responsible for causing the damage.

Their drug, which aims to limit cell damage caused by T14, will likely be tested on humans next.

Robert Howard, Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry at University College London, says: “Until we know a drug is safe and effective in humans, it’s too early to be excited. But it’s true that the amyloid drugs haven’t had the positive effect that the Alzheimer’s community was hoping for.”

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