Alzheimers Cure

Reporter: Jonathan Creek

Dennis Tonks' memory is literally fading away -- the 73 year old slowly succumbing to Alzheimers Disease. The disease makes even the simplest of tasks near impossible for the grandfather to complete.

Dennis simply couldn't function without Marg, his loving wife of 54 years, who runs their schedule on a calendar. They share good days and bad. "I might go for 4 or 5 days without a problem at all and I might have 2 or 3 days together where Marg can't get sense out of me", Dennis said.

For years the former principal had trouble remembering names, but upon retirement his concentration diminished even further. On a shopping trip the extent of his condition hit home -- alone, Dennis forget completely where he was, how he got there and even where he lived.

Diagnosed early

Diagnosed early, he takes medication to slow the deterioration but even so, the couple's twilight years were never meant to be this hard.

"This is the disintergration of the brain, it's the loss of all the higher aspects, the functionality of the brian that enables you to socialize, to remember where you are, who you are as a person, these are all lost fairly rapidly over the course of three to five years", said Professor Colin Masters from the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria.

Professor Masters has been searching for a solution for 25 years and is optimistic a new drug, which has been found to improve sufferers quality of life, may hold the key. "This Prana drug PBT2 is a major achievement, a major milestone in our efforts to understand the nature of Alzheimers Disease and to treat it effectively by modifying the course of the disease", Professor Masters said.

Designed by Melbourne University researchers, the drug attacks the molecule responsible for Alzheimers.. "The Abeta Amaloyd protein -- very small molecule -- but right in the centre of it is a very special region we have developed this drug to hit. If this molecule gets too high in the brain then the synapses in the brain degenerate and you get symptoms of Alzheimers Disease", he said.

While not a cure, Professor Master's believes it could delay the onset of the disease for five years if caught early. Considering the peak age for Alzheimers is 80, the drug could reduce its prevalence in the community by 50%.

72 year old Fran Sheedy participated in the 12 week trial. The former nurse was given a high daily dose of the drug and husband Bill noticed an improvement in her short term memory and verbal fluency. Both want it to be made available as a matter of urgency. "They should be going full bore in the investigation of these type of diseases and curing these diseases and I think it can be cured", Bill said.

"It's great that Australia is at the cutting edge of Alzheimers Disease research. It's good for Australia, it's good for Australians as well, so Alzheimers Australia, we are very excited about this", said the Association's Lynette Moore.

But that said, Lynette is cautious. "It's too early to know whether PBT2 is going to give us the breakthrough we're looking for. There have been other drugs which have been positively announced and then found not to stand the test of greater scrutiny", she said.

"We estimate conservatively it's going to be five years before this drug gets into the market, gets into the community. We've got a lot of work to do to make sure it's safe, to determine it's correct dosage and to make sure it really is as effective as we hope it will be", Professor Masters said.

Although it's release may come too late to help Dennis Tonks, he has this advice for those concerned about their wellbeing. "If you get professional help at the early stages you're going to live a far happier life for a far greater period of time, than by ignoring it".