On 4 November 2016, researchers and clinicians from across the UK met at the 6th Annual FTD UK Meeting at Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge. This meeting brings together those working on a range of neurodegenerative conditions, including PSP and a related disease known as Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). The day was full of exciting updates about current and future research.
PSP highlights included PSPA-funded researcher Prof James Rowe talking about using a scanning technique called ‘tau PET imaging’ to look at tau protein in the brain. Tau forms abnormal clumps in the brain cells of patients with PSP and is thought to be a major player in the disease process. Prof Rowe explained how he has been working with a special “dye”, or tracer, called AV1451, which is thought to bind to tau and shows up during a special type of scan, highlighting areas of the brain where there is lots of abnormal tau. This is therefore a promising technique for examining the extent and spread of the protein.
The involvement of tau in PSP and CBD makes it a prime target for potential new treatments and there was exciting news at the meeting from Dr Irfan Qureshi from pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb. They have made an antibody that binds to the tau protein while it is floating within brain tissue and seems to stop the tau from becoming attached to brain cells, therefore reducing its spread. The drug based on this antibody has already demonstrated its safety in relatively small US trials, so a larger trial of its efficacy in selected patients could be on the horizon.
Pharmaceutical company Asceneuron have a produced a different anti-tau drug. Dr Beher explained that this drug affects the surface of the tau protein, therefore altering its shape and stickiness and limiting abnormal clumping. Early non-human trials of this drug have shown promising results and soon it may enter the early stages of human testing.
Our flagship Research Network study, PROSPECT, was also in the spotlight at the meeting, with Principal Investigator Prof Huw Morris explaining how the study should inform us about earlier indicators of disease, reliable markers that can be used to monitor progression, and new targets for drug treatments.
Everyone who attended the meeting went away inspired to ensure that their research would continue to contribute to better understanding and new treatments for these devastating disorders and hope for the patients and families affected by them.
Thanks to Dr Jonathan Rohrer and Dr Ione Woollacott of University College London for their help in putting this report together.