Alzheimer’s disease is reaching epidemic proportions and is one of the greatest challenges facing science, healthcare and society. Twenty-five million people the world over are thought to be affected today, a figure that is expected to rise to around 80 million by 2050. It is not only the ageing population that is exacerbating the problem; new methods of early detection and diagnosis, which are set to be introduced in Sweden and around the world, will also mean that patients with memory disorders can be given an early diagnosis, one that they will then live with for many years. It was not long ago that diagnosis was only thought possible retrospectively after an autopsy. Today, tests of memory and function are used, but we are now starting to see a combination of memory and spinal fluid tests along with MR and PET scans.
“We know that the disease is slowly degenerative and often goes undiscovered for a long time,” says this year’s conference organiser Professor Agneta Nordberg from Karolinska Institutet. “One reason why medication doesn’t work is that we treat patients whose disease is far too advanced. If we could discover the disease at an earlier stage, we would be able to halt its progression. New research shows that it’s possible to detect changes that give rise to Alzheimer’s in otherwise symptom-free people as young as 50. It won’t be long before we can detect the changes at even younger ages, perhaps 30 or even 20.”
These developments will require new, efficacious drugs that also work for patients who consider themselves healthy. All the strategies now available will be discussed during the conference. The main focus of attack is still amyloid plaque, and scientists hope to be able to produce an effective vaccine that inhibits the formation of amyloid, or a drug that prevents its accumulation into plaque. Drugs targeted at smaller forms of amyloid (oligomers) are also of interest. It is also important to understand inflammation processes and genetic changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Apolipoproteins E and tau can be involved in the disease process and a future drug could be targeted at certain forms of these two proteins.
All this and much more will be taken up by the conference, which is expecting between 1,000 and 2,000 delegates.
The eminent scientists who will be addressing the conference include:
• Bruno Dubois, France: The evaluation and implementation of the new diagnostic criteria.
• John Morris, USA: What have we learnt and where do we go next?
• Rudolph Tanzi, USA: Genetic research for better treatment.
• Lon Schneider, USA: Are we ready to do clinical studies of early Alzheimer’s?
• David Holtzman, USA: The effects of antibodies on Apolipoprotein E.
• Christopher Rowe, Australia: The role of imagery in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
• Lennart Mucke, USA: On neural damage and the role of smaller forms of amyloid (oligomers).
• Dale Schenk: USA: Schenk was one of the first scientists to propose vaccination against Alzheimer’s disease and will be talking more about this.
• Anders Wimo, Sweden: Health economics and Alzheimer’s disease from a global perspective.