A treatment for Alzheimer’s disease will be available within a decade and may ultimately be prescribed in a similar way to statins to prevent the onset of the illness, experts have predicted.
Speaking ahead of a lecture at the Royal Society, Professor John Hardy, a dementia expert from University College London, said drug trials were showing such promise that he believed we were now “in an era of great optimism”. Mr Hardy said it was likely that drugs would be available by 2025 that would radically push back the age at which people develop dementia.
“When you are on the right road, you put your foot on the accelerator and you can go quicker, so those results are key.”
He added: “In the coming year we will know if we are already at the start of a new era of better treatments for slowing or stopping the development of Alzheimer’s disease and allied neurodegenerative disorders, or if current research strategies should be refocused.”
Dementia is a degenerative disorder that researchers estimate 850,000 people live with in the UK today, and has symptoms including memory loss.
By 2025, the Alzheimer’s Society estimates one million people will have dementia.
Age is the main risk factor, but not the cause, for dementia, meaning effective treatment for the disease will soon be required due to the UK’s ageing population.
As well as Alzheimer’s, understanding of other forms of dementia such as Parkinson’s disease is also progressing, Professor Hardy added.
Symptoms of dementia are believed to sometimes be caused when amyloid beta clumps together to form a plaque in the brain, interfering with how brain cells signal to each other.
Some of the current drug trials, two of which are now in the clinical trial stage, focus on using antibodies to take amyloid beta out of the brain.
If successful, these drugs could be used to prevent the development of dementia in its early stages.
Research also determined that Parkinson’s disease can be caused by a set of genes which control how the brain digests its proteins – progress which Professor Hardy said had been “remarkable”.
As well as pharmaceutical treatments for dementia, experts also stress the importance of lifestyle improvements in preventing a disorder from developing.
Smoking, high cholesterol, drinking above recommended limits and high blood pressure are identified as factors which raise the risk of developing such a disease, according to Public Health England.
It is estimated that as much as £5 billion could be saved each year if these so-called primary prevention methods are adopted at the same rate as they have in the past few decades.
Alzheimer’s Research UK research director Simon Ridley said: “If primary prevention improvements can be maintained at the same rate as that achieved in the past 20 years, they alone may generate savings of £5 billion or more a year by the 2030s.”
He added that the impact healthy lifestyles have on preventing dementia requires further research.