Earlier this year neurologists at University College London Hospitals began investigating the first genetic therapy for the disease, which aims to silence a gene linked to the tau protein.
“Tackling dementia is a numbers game,” says Rowe. “It’s beatable and fixable, and the more trials you have, the more chance you’re going to land on a cure.”
2. Lewy body dementia
Around 10 per cent of dementia cases are Lewy body dementia, in which patients develop tiny round deposits of the alpha-synuclein protein known as Lewy bodies, which damage the brain’s nerve cells. Patients also have reduced levels of key brain chemicals, which impacts the connections between cells and causes the brain to function less efficiently.
“Typically, these patients have reasonable memory function, but they cannot plan or organise and their thinking is impaired,” says Philip Scheltens, a scientific advisor at Race Against Dementia and professor of neurology at Alzheimer Center Amsterdam.
Patients with Lewy body dementia can also experience visual hallucinations as well as Parkinson’s-like symptoms such as tremors. Scheltens explains that the advent of better forms of brain imaging in recent years have led to more people being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, making it easier to design clinical trials.
He points to Boston-based company EIP Pharma, which has developed a drug called neflamapimod, which appeared to significantly improve cognition in patients with the disease in a trial earlier in 2023. “Around those Lewy bodies, there’s a massive amount of inflammation,” says Scheltens. “And this particular drug targets this neuroinflammation.”
3. Frontotemporal dementia
Earlier this year, Hollywood star Bruce Willis revealed his ongoing battle with frontotemporal dementia, a disease that is more likely to affect under-65s. It tends to be characterised by drastic personality change, with individuals often displaying inappropriate and impulsive behaviour.
Dr Maura Malpetti, a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge and a Race Against Dementia UK research fellow, says frontotemporal dementia is linked to sustained inflammation, which harms the frontal and side regions of the brain. “This inflammation is related to dysfunctional immune activity in the brain,” she says.
Up to 30 per cent of people with the disease are thought to have acquired it due to faulty genes that run in their families. But for more than two-thirds of cases, the exact causes are unknown.
Right now, patients can receive speech and language therapy as well as antidepressants to help manage some of the different symptoms, but there is an urgent need for effective drugs to help slow the progression of the disease.
Malpetti says there are various approaches being studied, which include targeting known faulty genes and cleaning up harmful proteins. Her team is currently researching better ways of dampening down the inflammation that contributes significantly to the disease process.
“We’re using a combination of innovative brain scans and blood tests to identify the most relevant inflammation targets,” she says. “If we find a good inflammation target for frontotemporal dementia, this may have applications in other dementias.”
4. Vascular dementia
This is where brain deterioration is caused by damage to the fragile blood vessels that supply the brain with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to continue functioning. The damage can be caused by small blood clots, which can induce mini-strokes, or the gradual thickening of the blood vessel walls in the brain, which reduces blood flow and leads to cell death.
Symptoms of vascular dementia can include problems with memory, language, decision-making and co-ordination.