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Behind the headlines

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‘Alzheimer’s drug halts decline’

What did the media report?

The media reported that an experimental Alzheimer’s drug could slow cognitive decline by 81%, performing twice as well in trials as any existing treatment.

What does the research show?

The reports are based on results from a phase II trial of methylthioninium chloride (MTC), a drug that targets tau protein and its aggregation into ‘tangles’ in the brain.

These tangles are a characteristic hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and appear before clinically apparent symptoms of dementia.

MTC has previously been shown in the test tube to dissolve tau tangle filaments. Researchers investigated the effects of oral MTC at 30, 60 and 100mg doses three times per day, compared with placebo, on cognitive function in 321 patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s.

The decline seen in patients treated with MTC was not significantly different from baseline to assessment at one year and at their final assessment at 19 months. In the control group, there was a significant decline from starting scores in cognitive testing and on brain scans.

The findings were presented last month at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease 2008 in Chicago.

What did the researchers say?

Lead researcher Claude Wischik, professor of psychiatric geratology and old age psychiatry at Aberdeen University, said: ‘This is an unprecedented result in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. We have demonstrated for the first time that it may be possible to arrest the progression of this disease by targeting the tangles which are highly correlated with the disease. This is the most significant development in the treatment of the tangles since Alois Alzheimer discovered them in 1907.’

What does this mean for nursing practice?

Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This first modestly sized trial in humans is potentially exciting. It suggests the drug could be over twice as effective as any treatment that is currently available.

‘However we are not there yet. Larger scale trials are now needed to confirm the safety of this drug and establish how far it could benefit the thousands of people living with this devastating disease.’

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