South Africa 4.9.2018 09:42 am

Wits researchers closer to slowing progression of Alzheimer’s

Wits University. Picture: Steven Tau

Wits University. Picture: Steven Tau

Until now, there has been no cure for Alzheimer’s, which attacks brain cells when proteins group together and deposit amyloid-beta plaque.

A breakthrough by a team of researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) could see patients with Alzheimer’s using a nasal spray to slow down the progression of the disease, the main cause of dementia, the institution said on Tuesday.

Alzheimer’s, which starts out with loss of memory and problems with thought processing, becomes a debilitating disease as it progresses; attacking the parts of the brain that control walking and coordination. Even swallowing, mood swings, aggression, repetition, and volatile behaviour are typical as it takes hold.

Until now, there has been no cure for Alzheimer’s, which attacks brain cells when proteins group together and deposit amyloid-beta plaque, but a Wits research team led by Professor Stefan Weissn has discovered an antibody that effectively targets the protein aggregation itself.

“If we can slow down the progression of the disease, we can dramatically improve the quality of life for patients, as well as extend their lifespan,” Weiss said, noting that in advanced stages Alzheimer’s can affect the functioning of the whole body and eventually lead to death.

The study on mice, funded by the South African Medical Research Council, was initiated in 2015 and the team now plans to initiate phase one of the clinical trials with 30 to 50 volunteers suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The team expects to see similar results as with the mice; a significant improvement of memory and cognitive functions in the Alzheimer’s disease patients. If the outcomes are as expected, the team hopes to get regulatory approval on a nasal spray containing the antibody, which could then be available to Alzheimer’s patients in the near future.

“We ideally need a pharmaceutical partner to be involved in this next study, to carry out further clinical trials and to subsequently commercialise the drug,” said Anne Gabathuse, innovation support manager at Wits Commercial Enterprise which has helped Weiss’s team in further development and commercial negotiations.

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