They want to solve the mystery of Alzheimer’s

16 December, 2020

She’s a chemist. He’s a medic. Together, they stand behind some of the recent major research breakthroughs on Alzheimer’s disease. Sara Linse and Oskar Hansson is now laying the foundation for future drugs and diagnostic methods.

It is such an unusual morning in late November when the sun does not have to fight against the shock of steel-gray clouds. Sara Linse, professor of biochemistry and structural biology, is waiting at the Chemistry Center’s entrance. A few minutes later, a cyclist joins – Oskar Hansson, professor of clinical memory research. There is no doubt that they are both authorities in their fields. Recently, they published an article in the scientific journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology about a new method for measuring the effect of various promising drugs against Alzheimer’s. And the day before the interview, the news came that they, as two out of three Lund researchers, had been named “Highly cited researcher 2020” by the Web of Science Group.

– It shows that our university is good in the field. As a doctor, I think it’s great for our Alzheimer’s patients in the region. Then, of course, I hope that we can build on this so that we get even stronger research, says Oskar Hansson.

– A few years ago, we published a groundbreaking discovery that many other research groups around the world have hooked on and continue to investigate. This appointment shows that our research is important and interesting, says Sara Linse.

25,000 new patients fall ill each year

Around 160,000 Swedes today suffer from dementia. Every year, about 25,000 people fall ill with dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common diagnosis. But dementia has historically been difficult to diagnose. That is something that Oskar Hansson’s research will change. Together with his research group, he has developed a spinal fluid sample that has shown good results.

– We have also researched camera methods that make it possible to visualize Alzheimer’s in the brain. And this summer we were able to measure substances in the blood for the first time. So on the diagnostics side, today we have methods that are 90 percent safe, he says.

On the treatment side, not as much has happened, although there has been a breakthrough lately there as well. In their latest study, Oskar Hansson and Sara Linse have found a drug candidate that prevents the formation of the substance beta-amyloid – the small misfolded protein clumps that are stored in the brain and contribute to Alzheimer’s. The specific drug is currently being evaluated by the US Drug Administration and a decision is expected in a few months. So hopefully there can be a drug on the market already next year.

– This is a very exciting field to research in because it is a disease that affects so many. It is said that around 50 million people in the world have Alzheimer’s. I do not think there is any other disease that is as common for which there is no real treatment, says Sara Linse.

Today’s drugs have a modest effect

Today, there are two different types of medications that are usually given to Alzheimer’s patients. The first increases a signal substance in the brain, which can strengthen attention and memory. The second affects a signal receptor in the brain. They are often used together, but according to Oskar Hansson have a modest effect.

– They are often called antiretroviral drugs, but it is incorrect. They only have a symptom-relieving effect. The drugs that are currently being researched do not cure either, but they do slow down the disease. And that is a first step, says Oskar Hansson.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, more and more funding is being earmarked for Alzheimer’s research. Something that benefits the whole world. The total societal cost of dementia is usually estimated at just over one percent of the global economy. With a new drug, this would change.

Both Oskar Hansson and Sara Linse see a bright future.

– In ten years, Oskar’s methods will be able to diagnose everyone and I have managed to find a small molecule that can be used to develop a drug that can slow down the disease. We do not need to eliminate Alzheimer’s completely, delaying the disease is good enough, says Sara Linse.

– If you delay the illness by five years, we get rid of 50 percent of the cases. If you were to delay by ten years, we would get rid of 95 percent, because most people fall ill at a late age, says Oskar Hansson.