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The University of Southampton
Medicine

Redirecting the global search for an Alzheimer's cure

Research at the University of Southampton into amyloid beta protein (Aβ) immunisation to treat Alzheimer’s has changed the way the disease is understood. Our studies were pivotal in initiating clinical trials of immunotherapy agents, securing $3bn investment from the pharmaceutical industry and doubling UK funding to tackle the disease.

Research Challenge

Driving global research into Alzheimer's over the last two decades was the theory that accumulation of Aβ in the brain plays a key role by disrupting normal cognitive function. However clinical trials into removing Aβ plaques from the brain to halt the disease were displaying side effects and research along this theory was at the point of being abandoned.

Context

Animal studies had led researchers to believe that immunisation with Aβ protein via the bloodstream may reduce the amount of Aβ in the brain, and improve brain function, but no one had looked at this in humans.

Our Solution

In 2000 Southampton's Memory Assessment and Research Centre (MARC) carried out the first human clinical study of active Aβ immunisation. A following study demonstrated the pathology of Alzheimer's was altered by removing Aβ plaques from the brain.

The team then discovered that the effects of complete Aβ plaque removal are insufficient to halt cognitive decline, and that early intervention is crucial. What's more, a further study revealed evidence of serious side-effects associated with Aβ plaque removal.

The Impact

The team's original finding was recognised as one of the most notable advances in Alzheimer's and encouraged several companies to continue with research they almost abandoned. Ensuing investment is estimated at £3bn and, as a result of our research, focus has switched to finding a preventative treatment.

Our findings were presented in the House of Lords and the importance of such research to the then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Subsequently Prime Minister David Cameron announced a doubling of funding for Alzheimer's disease to £66 million and a programme of early detection screening.

Recommendations based on our research have also led directly to a policy change by the US for the safe monitoring of patients receiving immunotherapy for Alzheimer's.

The first human clinical study of active Aβ immunisation
Alzheimer's disease treatment

Key Publications

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