IN a world-first trial, Victorians with a devastating form of dementia that strikes in middle age will be given a drug aimed at slowing the disease. Thousands of Australians have the condition, which causes changes in personality and behaviour or language skills, depending on which part of the brain is damaged. Frontotemporal dementia typically occurs from 45-65 years and it’s estimated up to 11,500 Australians are affected. In the Royal Melbourne Hospital trial, 15 patients will be given a drug already shown to be safe in humans for other diseases. If successful, it would be the first disease-modifying therapy for behavioural-variant frontotemporal dementia.
Professor Terence O’Brien, head of the University of Melbourne Department of Medicine at the RMH, said patients would be given sodium selenate tablets and tested for changes in the brain over a 12-month period. Almost half of people with this type of young-onset dementia have tangles of tau protein in their brain, which block brain cell function. “We hope it will clear the tangles in the brain and prevent further build-up and neurodegeneration and it has done that in preclinical trials,” Prof O’Brien said.
Alzheimer’s Australia acting CEO Leanne Wenig said clinical trials like this were urgently needed to stop dementia diagnoses increasing to 1.1 million by 2056. Suzie O’Sullivan, 58, had to wait almost three years to get a diagnosis of FTD, after initially being told her symptoms could be linked to menopause. The Victorian has stopped driving and working, but she tries to keep as mentally and physically healthy as possible. “For me, the progression has been relatively slow and at the moment, I can care for myself, but I get confused and I have an apathy and it takes me longer to do things so I achieve a lot less in a day,” she said. “Things that I used to know, like words or recipes that you have known all your life, are gone. Trials like this are so important because, unlike other forms of dementia, there is nothing you can take for it.”
The drug trial is funded by the Royal Melbourne Neuroscience Foundation.