July 17 - There's new hope for Alzheimer's patients and their families with new research likely to accelerate the development of preventative drugs. A discovery made by scientists in Iceland provides strong evidence that Alzheimers is caused by a build-up of a plaque called beta amyloid in the brain, giving drug-makers new incentives to develop anti-amyloid treatments for use before symptoms take hold. Sharon Reich as more.
18 million people around the world suffer from memory loss as a result of Alzheimer's disease. Now, scientists in Iceland have discovered a rare gene mutation in some people that prevents the buildup of beta-amyloid, a sticky plaque that develops around the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Dr. Kari Stefansson and his team at deCODE Genetics made the discovery when they scanned the DNA of 1,800 people in search of genetic variations that block beta-amyloid. Stefansson says the mutation is extremely rare but clearly demonstrates that by blocking beta amyloid production, Alzheimers can be prevented before any symptoms appear. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. KARI STEFANSSON, DECODE GENETICS CEO, SAYING: "First and foremost it is a confirmation of the idea that if you block an enzyme that is called a beta zycothese, you will be able to prevent the disease or cure the disease. That is basically, we can say that that is the part of the discovery that has the greatest relevance to treatment." For drug manufacturers the discovery could herald a research revolution. The findings provide the most solid evidence yet to support ongoing efforts to produce preventative treatments by blocking beta amyloid production. The research says that people older than 85 who have the beneficial mutation are 81 percent less likely to develop the disease than others in that age group. Alzheimer's researchers like Dr. Samuel Gandy of Mt. Sinai Medical College are hailing the new discovery as the most significant finding in 20 years. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. SAMUEL GANDY, DIRECTOR OF CENTER FOR COGNITIVE HEALTH MT SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, SAYING: "Hopefully within a decade we'll be able to arrest the progression of the disease. But what may take a bit longer and where we want to be is to totally prevent the disease from ever happening. We now have brain scans that allow us to see the protein building up maybe 25 years before the first symptoms. So what we think we'll want to do is do the brain scans in 50 year old people look to see if they have protein build up and if they do, put them on medications to stop the build up and hopefully reverse it and prevent them from ever getting the signs of Alzheimer's disease." And for Fanney Proppe Eiriksdottir of the Icelandic Alzheimer's Association, new medications can't come soon enough. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHAIRMAN OF FAAS (ALZHEIMER'S ICELANDIC ASSOCIATION) WHO LOST A HUSBAND TO ALZHEIMER'S FANNEY PROPPE EIRIKSDOTTIR, SAYING: "We have been thinking for years, there is no revolution in this, they are always saying there's a medicine coming or we are trying for a new medicine to stop this but this is the first sort of revolution that we think, this might be the thing that we have been waiting for." Alzheimers experts are not predicting an instant cure for the disease. But they do say the discovery could be the turning point that scientists and the families of Alzheimer's patients have been waiting for. Sharon Reich, Reuters