It is thought that worldwide approximately 44 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, and this number is growing every year. In 2012 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that by 2030, there will be 70 million people around the world with dementia. The few treatments there are out there do nothing but slow down the progression of the disease. But could this soon change with the use of a drug already used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis?
A pilot trial of 33 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s using the drug, etanercept, showed a lot of promise with scores in some cognitive tests remaining similar between the start and the end of the 6-month trial. In other tests of behavior and coping, the patients on the drug deteriorated to a lesser degree than those on a placebo. These promising findings were presented by Clive Holmes (University of Southampton) at the Alzheimer’s Association International conference in Copenhagen, Denmark last week.
Although these initial results are promising, a bigger study is required over a longer period of time to get significant results. All this pilot trial tells us is that the drug is safe. Eric Karran head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said ‘It’s certainly worth following up with a larger study’. This is because with only 33 people participating in the trial, the success of the drug could be down to chance. Also of those participating only 15 received weekly injections of etanercept, while 18 received a placebo saline injection. A larger trial ten times the size will need to be carried out in the next phase of the drug trial, however this drug could be used very soon (in the next 2-3 years) as it is already used for arthritis and we know a lot about it.
There is currently no way to stop deterioration or undo damage, but can we prevent people from suffering from Alzheimer’s before they get it? Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. Some of these factors associated with Alzheimers include: diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, low educational attainment, obesity and smoking. A study carried out by the neuroscientist Carol Brayne (University of Cambridge), has estimated that one third of Alzheimer’s cases can be attributed to these modifiable factors, and can therefore be avoided. Even small percentage decreases in the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s could prevent millions from facing this end-of-life trauma.