HALIFAX — After 20 years of researching Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Sultan Darvesh says he’s reached a major milestone.
“We could have given up many, many years ago, for a wide variety of reasons,” says the Dalhousie University researcher. “And, I’m glad that we didn’t. And so, when you hit a home run, you know how exciting that is.”
Darvesh, and his team at the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank have adapted a molecule that holds tantalizing promise.
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It sticks to proteins in the brain that are thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease.
This gives them a better tool to diagnose Alzheimer’s with certainty — something that currently can’t be done until a patient dies.
Their latest laboratory results, published in this month’s Journal of Nuclear Medicine, are the clearest indication to date the test works.
“That is a huge milestone because that has been an enormously difficult thing to do. This is the first time that this has been accomplished.”
Much of Darvesh’s research using brain tissue, donated by families whose loved ones suffered from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Their potential breakthrough is still unproven and they’ve just begun testing the molecule on animals.
Human clinical trials could be several years away.
“It’s a tough call because, all of a sudden, something happens and we need to rejig where we’re going,” cautions Dr. Ian Pottie, a chemist at Mount Saint Vincent University, who joined Darvesh’s project more than a decade ago. “So, it’s a constant battle of forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards.”
Still, they’re confident their test is better than anything currently on the market.
An earlier, definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s among the living could make a big difference in helping patients plan their lives.
Darvesh says it would also remove some guesswork by other researchers.
“People are developing medications, drugs to slow the progression of the disease,” he says. “You can imagine, to have a disease-modifying drug, you need to enroll people in clinical trials with absolute confidence that person has Alzheimer’s disease.”
There’s a financial incentive, too.
Darvesh has a stake in a biotech company focused on Alzheimer’s research.
He and Pottie are also listed as inventors on related patents.
But, they say the big pay-off would be satisfaction in easing a disease that, along with other forms of dementia, could afflict 1.4-million Canadians by 2031.