Dementia sufferers to trial new drug in world first

Published: 11 September 2017


Victorians with an extreme form of dementia that emerges in middle-age will receive a new drug in a world-first trial.

Fifteen patients in the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) will take part in the trial, and will be tested for changes in the brain over a 12-month period.

Thousands of Australians are affected by frontotemporal dementia, which causes changes in personality or behaviour between the ages of 45-65 years.

Professor Terry O’Brien, head of the University of Melbourne Department of Medicine at the RMH said the treatment could slow down or even reverse dementia.

“It’s a devastating, progressive condition that destroys the functioning of people and ultimately is fatal, and we currently have no way of treating it,” he said.

“We have found a drug that seems to reduce the protein that’s really important in this disease in about half the people [affected].”

Researchers have found about half of people with this particular type of dementia have tangles of ‘tau protein’ in their brain.

Professor O’Brien said protein blocks certain brain functions, and was found in other conditions besides dementia.

“This type of protein is increased in a variety of different brain diseases that result in the degeneration of the brain, including Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic brain injuries such as concussion,” he said.

The drug itself, sodium selenate, encourages an enzyme in the brain to strip away molecules from the ‘tau proteins’ to ‘de-clump’ the brain, according to Professor O’Brien.

“You can never be 100 percent confident, but the pre-clinical evidence [for this drug] in animals is incredible powerful,” he said.

The trial is funded by the Royal Melbourne Neuroscience Foundation.