US researchers have identified new antibodies capable of stopping the build-up of a protein called tau – a key feature of Alzheimer’s and other diseases, including frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The study, which showed these antibodies improved memory in mice, is published on Thursday 26 September in the journal Neuron online.
In its normal form, tau plays a role in stabilising brain cells, but in diseases like Alzheimer’s and FTD, it accumulates and becomes tangled inside these cells. Scientists at Washington University, in St Louis, tested a series of different antibodies to look for those that were capable of attaching to tau, and identified three specific antibodies that were able to stop the build-up of the protein.
They then tested the effects of each antibody in mice bred to develop a build-up of tau. They found that, after three months of treatment, tau build-up was reduced in comparison to mice that were not treated. In addition, two of the three antibodies improved the mice’s performance on one test of memory. The researchers suggest that the use of antibodies that target tau could be a promising approach for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s or FTD.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“The development of treatments to target abnormal tau is a relatively new approach, and if successful, could help tackle a number of diseases where tau is a key feature. These early findings highlight three antibodies that may be able to stop the spread of tau in mice, but much more work is needed to know whether these could be turned into a safe and effective treatment for people. In the long run, clinical trials would be needed to determine whether such a treatment could benefit people with Alzheimer’s or frontotemporal dementia.
“Dementia affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, and investment in research is vital if potential new treatments are to reach the people who urgently need them. For the best chance of success, we need to see as many approaches as possible being tested, and promising new leads in research followed up.”