Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 15:22 GMT
Drive to beat Alzheimer's Disease
Southampton General Hospital has undertaken pioneering work
A team of experts is to launch a concerted drive to find ways to stop Alzheimer's Disease from becoming an epidemic.
Researchers predict that the number of people suffering from the disease in the UK could double to more than one million by the year 2025.
Now a multi-disciplinary team is being assembled to develop new ways to tackle the disease.
Experts drawn from fields such as general practice, psychiatry, geriatric medicine and community health work will join forces to analyse the disease. They will be based in Southampton.
The team's first task will be to achieve a greater understanding of the underlying reasons for the success of new drug therapies.
These include drugs such as Aricept, which has been shown in a trial at Southampton General Hospital to halt the progress of Alzheimer's by an average of 38 weeks in approximately one third of patients who take it.
Dr Clive Holmes, an honorary consultant in old age psychiatry from the Thornhill Research Unit in West End, Hampshire, said: "Using our state-of-the-art gene screening technology we need to identify why some patients benefit from the drug therapy while others are unaffected.
"Ultimately, the aim must be to halt the disease in its tracks for the lifetime of any individual."
In young patients with Alzheimer's Disease three genes have been identified, all of which appear to influence whether an abnormal protein is deposited in the brain.
About half of young people with Alzheimer's have been found to have an abnormality in one of these genes.
In the elderly, another gene has been identified which may influence how we repair brain tissue damage.
About one third of elderly people with the disease have an abormality in this gene.
Dr Holmes said: "So far about half of the genes for Alzheimer's disease have been identified.
"Finding out what genes are involved gives us a great deal of information as to how the disease develops and how we might prevent it from starting in the first place."
The new research team will make use of a DNA bank of elderly people's tissue that was established last November.
Their work has been partly funded by an £80,000 grant from the medical charity Hope.