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Will Alzheimer's be as Manageable as HIV in the Next Decade?


The next generation is sure to have a totally different experience with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. 

Following his appointment as head of Britain’s new Dementia Research Institute, world-renowned Belgian neuroscientist Professor Bart De Strooper made an optimistic promise to the Press Association, saying that Alzheimer’s will be just as manageable as HIV within a decade. 

“We won't be celebrating in 2025 that dementia is cured,” he said, “but I hope that by then there will be groups of patients who can be treated in much the same way HIV-Aids is treated today. I believe it will happen. I'm very optimistic - the brain is the most plastic organ we have. If you could stabilize the disease at an early stage it might be possible to regain part of the function that seems to be lost.”

The announcement comes after the antibody drug, Solanezumab, once thought to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, failed in clinical trials last month. But despite the disappointment, De Strooper has high hopes for a new kind of strategy — one that goes beyond the “amyloid hypothesis” most dementia research focuses on. 

This new hypothesis would place clumps of sticky protein fragments in the brain knows as beta-amyloid at the heart of Alzheimer’s, reports the Press Association. These beta-amyloid “plaques” are recognized as a key hallmark of the disease. 

“The amyloid hypothesis is an old hypothesis from 25 years ago,” he explained. “Since then we have acquired so much information that can't fit into the simple amyloid hypothesis. It would be an over-simplification to reduce Alzheimer's to amyloid. The main problem is not that the hypothesis is untrue, but it is very old-fashioned, simplistic and linear. Dementia is likely to be much more complicated, in a similar way to cancer, which we now know is caused and driven by a multitude of factors. I hope progress in tackling dementia will go faster than it did with cancer.” 

The new Institute will be based in London, and is a partnership between the government-funded Medica Research Council, the Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Research UK. As the government announced, De Strooper will be running the £250 million venture from his own hub at University College London. 

Currently, De Strooper is recruiting a team doctors, biologists, engineers, and data specialists with enough experience to tackle the disease head-on. It’s safe to say that the next generation will have a totally different understand of dementia. 

“I’m a scientist,” he said, “so I don’t look into crystal balls but I would put a lot of money on saying that the next generation will have a completely different view of dementia disorders. In just the same way AIDS in the 1970s and 80s was seen as a terrible doom or punishment of the gods, but is now manageable and treatable… My priority in the first year will be to improve our mechanistic understanding of the disease. We'll be taking a multi-disciplinary approach to the problem. Modern medicine is already inherently multi-disciplinary, taking in areas such as genetics, bio-informatics and imaging. I'll be talking to engineers, medical doctors, biologists. We'll be moving from cell cultures to humans and back again.”

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