Alzheimer's Trial

Reporter: Lynda Kinkade

Married for 41 years one couple love to laugh -- but they had little laugh about three years ago.

At the very young age of 57, Kelvin Lawler was struck down with Alzheimer's, a disease more commonly associated with our elderly. "He was very moody, grumpy, things like that and we didn't know why - angry. He'd hone in on someone and pick an argument and this was totally out of character", said Kelvin's wife Yvette.

She didn't know where to turn - it was a disease which saw the demise of his mother. "Having watched his mum and how sad that was, its one of the cruelest diseases as you know", Yvette said.

Alzheimer's Disease attacks the brain's nerve cells, resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. It's the most common type of dementia and the older you are the more likely you are to develop it.

"If you're lucky or unlucky enough to reach the age of 90, you've got a 50/50 chance of pathology in your brain", said Associate Professor Steve McFarlane.

"People are often falsely reassured because they can remember things that happened years and years ago but struggle to remember things that happened yesterday", Professor McFarlane added.

More than 300,000 Australians suffer Alzheimer's disease but with an ageing population, those numbers are set to double by 2030 and double again by 2050. "There's a race on amongst big pharmaceutical companies to crack the Alzheimer's markets", Professor McFarlane said.

And a little red tablet could be the breakthrough the world has been waiting for. "Bodies produce anti-bodies in response to foreign invaders and viruses -- this is an anti-body that's been prepared in a laboratory that targets specifically one of the proteins to cause Alzheimer's disease", he added.

Professor McFarlane has been overseeing the trial of the drug at Caulfield Hospital, part of a worldwide study, and Kelvin is one of the participants. "He's been with us for 14 months and is a poster child for success in clinical trials", Professor McFarlane said.

"Within first month he started to remember things like where his favourite cup was", Yvette said.

Each participant is given the drug to take daily and once a month they're tested. "One of the tests would involve showing the patient words printed on cards, getting them to say those words out loud to register them, then removing them and testing their ability recall the word", Professor McFarlane said.

The preliminary results are incredible. "In people with mild Alzheimer's disease it slowed the rate of progression by about 30% compared to people who took the placebo", he added.

Before it can be put on the market thought, more trials are needed. "Again we're looking to recruit 2000 patients worldwide -- this time targeting only patients at the mild stage of disease", Professor McFarlane said.

"Absolutely it's changed his life for good", Yvette said.

In Australia dementia affects 1 in 4 people over 85. If you'd like to take part in the Alzheimer's study:

Call 03 9076 6110

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