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About 400,000 Australians are living with dementia and most of them have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells.

According to the National Institute on Aging, one of the proteins involved is called beta amyloid, deposits of which form plaques around brain cells. Another is tau which accumulates in specific brain regions involved in memory

In recent years, the treatment trials have moved earlier in the Alzheimer’s process before too much brain damage has occurred.

A pharmaceutical company recently announced the trial results of an Alzheimer’s disease medication – donanemab. The clinical trial of donanemab has now been peer reviewed and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicating it may decelerate decline in the disease’s early stages.

A randomised clinical trial for the use of donanemab indicates that the drug could slow the progression of disease by up to 35%.

‘Among participants with early symptomatic Alzheimer disease and amyloid and tau pathology, donanemab treatment significantly slowed clinical progression at 76 weeks,’ the article in JAMA stated.

However not everyone is convinced – an international group of specialists and researchers are concerned that the benefits of these drugs don’t necessarily merit the risks or the price tag. One of this group is Professor Alberto Espay from the University of Cincinnati, who researches degenerative diseases of the brain.

Professor Alberto Espay told ABC TV “The percentages of relative change sound amazing…when we hear 25% or 30% or even 20% improvement in a disease of any kind, you think that’s very large, but what’s actually much more important is actually knowing where people were at the beginning of the trial and where they end, that’s actually more meaningful”.

However, there is some concern over possible side effects. Of the 853 people on the drug, 52 had symptoms from brain swelling and there were three treatment related deaths.


Further information

Donanemab in Early Symptomatic Alzheimer Disease: Journal of the American Medical Association

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