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Can Alzheimer's disease be nipped in the bud?

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects over 500,000 people in the UK and prevalence is set to rise as the population ages. Since the approval last year of cognition enhancing drugs, management of Alzheimer’s disease, a previously untreatable condition, is undergoing a dramatic change. The drugs improve some of the cognitive symptoms of dementia and have also had a favourable impact the ability to perform routine tasks. More therapies are in development and the nature of the effects of drugs for Alzheimer’s is an exciting area of investigation.

The availability of treatments for AD has intensified demands for early diagnosis of the condition. The chance of delaying symptoms still further has focussed research on people with memory loss, a major risk factor for AD and a precursor to the disease's early stages.

Researchers in the Centre are looking at whether people with memory loss (termed mild cognitive impairment or MCI) would benefit from treatment with cholinesterase inhibitors by seeing whether this treatment can delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The Centre is also visualising the effects of an anticholinesterase on brain activity using fMRI. The MCI study will be conducted over the next four years and aims to provide answers to the following questions:
· which brain regions are activated by memory tasks in subjects aged 55 onwards?
· what differences in brain function are there between those with normal memory and those who are cognitively impaired?
· if rivastigmine has a positive effect, is it normalising or stabilising? (do cognitive and functional abilities start to return to normal during treatment, or do they just stop declining?)
· are the effects of rivastigmine specific to one type of memory? Do they enhance the ability to remember only newly acquired information for example, or do they improve long term and working memory too? (For more information on memory, refer to the cognition backgrounder.)