A GROUND-breaking drug to prevent millions of people from developing Alzheimer’s is just around the corner, scientists say.
With some 750,000 sufferers in the UK expected to double by 2050, it is feared the debilitating disease could become the world’s biggest health disaster.
The overall cost to the NHS is also predicted to rise from £17billion a year to £50billion in the next 30 years.
But researchers hope the catastrophe could now be averted by a new drug which destroys the harmful protein that causes dementia before it can do damage.
The destructive fibres, known as amyloid, clump together in plaques in the brain and kill off nerves, leading to the symptoms of memory loss and confusion that is typical of Alzheimer’s.
Professor David Allsop, who is leading the research at Lancaster University, said the treatment his team are testing can stop the protein from amassing.
“When the disease is diagnosed now, the damage is already done,” he said.
“We are developing treatments based on inhibiting the protein fibres from accumulating so Alzheimer’s could be treated much earlier.”
He said that a drug to prevent the disease could be tested in humans in five to six years.
The research is part of a £12.8million European Union project bringing together leading scientists from 18 other centres.
Professor Allsop is also working on a separate method of diagnosing Alzheimer’s before there are any symptoms of memory loss.
The levels of amyloid beta molecules are found at higher levels in the blood and spinal fluid of Alzheimer’s sufferers, even when they appear well.
Dr Marie Janson, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, which has helped fund some of Professor Allsop’s work, said: “Clearing the brain of the culprit proteins linked to Alzheimer’s and other dementias is a key area of research and timing is everything.
“Experts believe early intervention against all forms of dementia is important for treatments to be effective, so research into early diagnosis is crucial.”
She added: “The work in Lancaster could also help improve accuracy of diagnosis, spotting rarer forms of dementia that might react differently to treatments.