These markers for the disease will be used to test whether experimental treatments can delay, or even prevent, the progression of the disease.
The NTAD study is using magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanners to measure subtle changes in the working of brain cells. The study initially scanned 50 patients with mild memory problems and a build-up of amyloid proteins that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as 15 healthy people. The interim findings from the study show a significant difference of brain cell activity in people with very early Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor James Rowe of the University of Cambridge, Chief Investigator and DPUK lead researcher on the study, said: ‘It is still early days, but it looks promising that the MEG measurement of brain activity may be sensitive enough to detect early Alzheimer’s disease. The initial findings suggest that it may be feasible to monitor the impact of treatments on the rate of brain cell decline.
Having a biological characteristic, known as a biomarker, sensitive to subtle changes in the working of the brain is vital if the pharmaceutical industry is to develop early treatments in a timely and cost-effective way.’
- Professor James Rowe
NTAD is now recruiting the 50 volunteers at the Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity. Jemma Pitt, Research Assistant on the study, said: ‘I came to Oxford because MEG scanning offers a new hope for detecting biomarkers that can be used to develop treatments for dementia. We desperately need to break the deadlock in finding new treatments, and by working with volunteers who contribute to research studies like NTAD we are a step closer. It’s a real pleasure to work with people who generously give their time to help find a treatment. All the volunteers that I meet, whether healthy or with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, are interested to learn about the research and believe that together we can speed the discovery of new drugs for the most pressing health crisis of our age – dementia.’
With reliable biomarkers, DPUK’s pharmaceutical industry partners will be better able to identify the most promising treatments to use in big drug trials. One year on, researchers are now starting follow-up scans of the first NTAD volunteers. This will identify which biomarkers are best for detecting the progression of Alzheimer’s disease – more sensitive than traditional memory tests or MRI scans.
Mrs Sally Taylor, a retired teacher and participant on the NTAD study said: ‘When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease I knew that I needed to accommodate and not fight the disease. For me that has meant offering something back and contributing to Alzheimer’s research. With Tony my husband helping, I have found taking part an incredibly positive experience. Along with being professional, the research team have been very personable and considerate. They have been clear about what is involved and carefully explained what I might expect, and I have never felt pushed or forced to participate at any stage.
‘Tony and I would like to thank the research team – they have been superb. Science like this gives us hope that research will find new effective treatments. It won’t be in time for me, but if my contribution goes some way to helping us understand more about how to slow the progress of this disease, I feel that I will have played a part in helping those with Alzheimer’s in the future.’
For more information on the study, or to register your interest in taking part, visit https://www.dementiasplatform.uk/NTAD