Doctors today can only be 80 to 90 per cent certain that a living patient has Alzheimer’s disease. Current diagnostics cannot distinguish between Alzheimer’s and many other forms of dementia. This poses immediate problems in terms of knowing how to treat the patient, making it almost impossible for scientists and clinicians to develop curative approaches to Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Darvesh, and his team are committed to finding a cure and are making rapid progress on two crucial fronts:
- Developing the world’s first technology for definitively diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in the living human brain.
- Identifying a key disease-driving mechanism and working with leading drug-development experts on compounds to block this mechanism to stop the progress of the disease.
The first development – a technology for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease with certainty while people are still alive and functioning reasonably well – is the essential cornerstone of all future efforts to discover, validate, and ultimately provide a cure. Definitively diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease would dramatically increase research opportunities not only locally, but across the country and indeed, the world. A clear diagnostic tool would give researchers across the globe a substantially increased chance of finding a cure. The more researchers we have working with the best diagnostic tools available, the faster we will find a cure for this devastating disease. The billions of dollars and many hours of focused effort currently being invested throughout the world through philanthropy, government grants and by pharmaceuticals can be leveraged by focusing researchers’ energies and resources in the right direction.
Moving the Needle Forward – Accomplishments
A cure of Alzheimer’s will be accelerated by diagnostic accuracy; Dr. Darvesh is on the cusp of this discovery. Thanks to funding from The Sobey Chair, Dr. Darvesh and his collaborators at the Biomedical Translational Imaging Centre (BIOTIC) are now testing his technology in pre-clinical animal studies. Using PET Scan, CT Scan, MRI and PSECT Scan, there is a two-year horizon for completing these tests. Dalhousie researchers are leaders in the global efforts to develop a definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease.
The diagnostic test Dr. Darvesh is pioneering opens the door to the possibility of re-testing the most promising compounds from previous trials. The cure may already be within our grasp, needing only a trial in which all patients enrolled definitely have Alzheimer’s disease.
The new diagnostic technology is based on Dr. Darvesh’s discovery that an enzyme known as butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) gathers around amyloid plaques in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease; this is a diagnostic breakthrough. Previously, diagnostic tests focused on amyloid proteins only, however, amyloid regularly appears in the brains of 20 to 30 per cent of cognitively normal adults; it therefore isn’t specific just to Alzheimer’s. BChE, however, is specific to Alzheimer`s and Dr. Darvesh and his team have synthesized nearly 400 compounds that bind with it. They are working with several lead compounds to determine which ones not only bind with it, but show up the most clearly to identify Alzheimer’s disease in living brains during diagnostic imaging tests like PET, CT and MRI.
What is needed to move the needle further, faster?
Thanks to The Sobey Chair, Dr. Darvesh has been able to hire, part-time, a highly qualified radio/medicinal chemist in his lab, to solve the chemistry challenges they face in optimizing their lead compounds. However, to advance his work, he requires a full-time radio/medicinal chemist, as well as technical support for critical autoradiography equipment in the Cellular and Molecular Digital Imaging Facility, one of the medical school’s shared research facilities.
An increase in the endowment that funds the DMRF Irene MacDonald Sobey Chair in Curative Approaches to Alzheimer’s Disease would allowing for:
- a full-time radio/medicinal chemist
- protected research time for Dr. Darvesh
- access to all the necessary equipment
- additional human and technological resources
Developing an accurate diagnostic tool means finding a cure faster. The most important benefit to finding a clear diagnostic tool and a cure is improving and saving the lives of those with this terrible disease. It will also provide family members the peace of mind in knowing that their loved ones will be diagnosed with certainty and receive the care they need early. There are currently more than 747,000 people living with of dementia nationally and more than 17,000 in Nova Scotia alone. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, there are 104,000 individuals diagnosed with dementia each year, with 50% of these cases believed to be Alzheimer’s. By 2038, there will be 258,000 new cases of dementia diagnosed each year. The impact of this disease is far-reaching and devastating and must be stopped. You can help us do this.