Curtin University researchers are looking for more volunteers to participate in a medical trial aimed at slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is caused by the build-up of a toxic protein called amyloid beta in the brain. The build-up of this toxic protein leads to a decline in mental and motor functions, including speech, problem-solving, memory and behaviour.
It is not a normal part of the aging process and, according to Distinguished Professor John Mamo, it affects half a million Australians directly and their one point six million people carers.
“It’s an extraordinary burden, both at a personal level and in the Australian context, and that’s going to get much worse because the Australian population is ageing.”
Distinguished Professor John Mamo and his team at the Curtin Health Research Institute are conducting trials with Probucol, an existing drug that was traditionally used to treat cardiovascular disease.
The trial involves half of the volunteers taking Probucol in the form of oral tablets and the other half taking a placebo.
Dr Mamo says the trial is looking for volunteers who may possibly have late-onset dementia, or have been officially diagnosed, typically above the age of 65.
While researchers believe Probucol can prevent Alzheimer’s together, Dr Mamo says they also hope the drug may reverse and repair damage done after Alzheimer’s has been diagnosed.
“By the time someone has appeared clinically and is complaining about memory deficit, there are already a lot of changes occurring. There is already a lot of damage that has occurred.”
The current trials are underpinned by research conducted by Curtin professors back in 2021.
Using genetically engineered mice that replicated human levels of amyloid beta, Curtin researchers discovered Alzheimer’s starts from the outside of the brain, with toxic protein being produced from the liver.
This research has served as a springboard to explore ways to prevent the leakage of amyloid into the brain from the intestines and the liver.
Forget-me-not Cafè founder Angie McCluskey welcomes the trials and hopes they will be given more attention.
McCluskey’s Perth-based foundation provides a social network for those with dementia, as well as their friends, family, and carers.
She says the initiative brings people together to share life experiences, stories and ways of dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“That’s the beauty of the cafes, we are socialising with those going through similar experiences.”
Angie’s husband Michael was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after his 65th birthday.
She says at the time of Michael’s diagnosis, there was little to no support for them.
“We were virtually left on our own,” she says.
“We were told he (Michael) has Alzheimer’s, and there are some leaflets on your way out from the doctor’s surgery if you want to pick some up. There was very little telling us where we could go and what we could do.”
McCluskey says dementia and Alzheimer’s cause a lot of distress for not only the person with the disease but friends and family.
“You do become isolated.”
Both she and her husband took part in clinical trials run by the Fiona Stanley hospital, however, because of the late stage of Alzheimer’s Michael was in, he could not participate and deteriorated too quickly.
Angie McCluskey says trials such as Curtin’s need to be brought to light so more people know they can volunteer and, hopefully, help discover a possible cure.
“We’re always handing out leaflets as we’re hearing about clinal trials and research, anything to assist in annihilating this insidious disease.
“Until we get some disease control or cure, the numbers aren’t going to go down.”
Professor John Mamo says the team is not sure when the trials will conclude.
He says the Covid pandemic had hampered volunteer numbers and slowed down their research, however, despite this, they hope to acquire more volunteer numbers and even expand the trial to different Australian states.