An antibody that can almost completely clear the visible signs of Alzheimer’s disease from the brain has been discovered in a breakthrough that left one scientist “trying not to get too excited”.
Researchers scanned the brains of people with the degenerative condition as they were given doses of the drug, which is based on an immune cell taken from the blood of elderly people aged up to 100 who showed no signs of the disease.
After a year, virtually all the toxic “amyloid plaques” that build up in Alzheimer’s patients appeared to have gone from the brains of those given the highest doses of the antibody. Amyloid plaques form when protein pieces (protein found in the fatty membrane surrounding nerve cells) clump together.
The scientists, who described their results in a paper in the journal Nature, also said the patients showed signs that the rate of their cognitive decline had slowed.
“Compared to other studies published in the past, the effect size of this drug is unprecedented.”
The study, led by scientists at pharmaceutical companies Biogen and Neurimmune, sparked major interest from experts in the field. Dr Tara Spires-Jones, interim director of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, said the research showed “robustly reduced amyloid pathology in a small group of people in very early stages of the disease”.
Commenting on the research in a separate Nature article, Professor Eric Reiman, of Arizona University, wrote: “If these preliminary cognitive findings are confirmed in larger and more-definitive clinical trials, which are now under way, it would provide a shot in the arm in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
And Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These results are the most detailed and promising that we’ve seen for a drug that aims to modify the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
“The study showed that the drug was able to remove clumps of amyloid plaques from the brain of mice and also, excitingly, in people. “No existing treatments for Alzheimer’s directly interfere with the disease process, so a drug that actually slows the progress of the disease would be a significant step.”
“While there were hints that it might have an effect on the symptoms of the disease, we need to see the results from further, larger research trials to understand whether this is the case. These larger trials are now under way, including in the UK, and due to finish in 2020,” Dr Pickett said.