UCLH leads first UK study to prevent Alzheimer’s 

26/10/2015 00:00 
A landmark study testing whether two immunotherapy drugs can prevent the onset of symptoms in patients at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s is under way at UCLH.
 
The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit (DIAN-TU) is an international collaboration working with 200 people who are at high risk of developing early onset Alzheimer's disease. These patients have a 50 per cent chance of carrying a rare genetic mutation which would see them develop dementia early in life, around their 30s or 40s.

The UK arm of the study is being led by Dr Cath Mummery, consultant neurologist at UCLH's National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) and head of clinical trials at Queen Square’s Dementia Research Centre.

"These patients know that they may get Alzheimer's disease because they may have a mutation that causes it, but they don't have symptoms,” said Dr Mummery. “So we're trying to prevent the onset of the disease, which is very different from studies so far that have trialled treatments in those already suffering from dementia.”

The research team working at the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neurology Centre at Queen Square monitors participants closely for signs of Alzheimer’s developing, before symptom onset, looking at imaging changes in the brain, cognitive performance and spinal fluid.

Sophie Leggett, from Suffolk, is participating in the study. Her aunt and her mother developed Alzheimer's in their early 40s.

Now 39, she has chosen not to know whether she has the genetic mutation that could lead to the illness.

She wants more research to tackle what has become one of the biggest health challenges of a generation. She is worried if she has the mutation, it could be passed on to her own daughter.

"I can cope with the possibility that it could happen to me,” said Sophie. “And I have many a time made a deal with God saying I'll take it, give it to me, but don't let my daughter have it. I think we all want to protect our children. And I don't want her to feel the fear that I feel now for myself."

If the therapies are successful the benefits could extend to people beyond this patient group, said Dr Mummery.

"Genetic Alzheimer's disease is similar in the way that it affects people - apart from being younger - to sporadic Alzheimer's disease, the common version seen in the general population," she said.

"The really exciting bit is - potentially - we can extrapolate to that larger Alzheimer’s population and potentially start to look at using this treatment for preventative measures for them."

Dr Mummery is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London.

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