Monash clinical trials of new drug shows promise for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia


A Monash University-led study has found a promising new treatment for patients with the second-most common form of dementia in people under 60, resulting in a stabilising of escalating behavioural issues, and a reversal of brain shrinkage due to the disease.

It is the second clinical trial to show that the drug, sodium selenate, may be slowing cognitive decline and neurodegenerative damage that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) can occur in people as young as 35 years of age. It is characterised by behavioural disturbances and personality changes, and can be highly disruptive and distressing for both patients and their families. There are no treatments or cures for bvFTD and typical survival is 5-7 years from diagnosis.

The Monash Phase 1 trial, the only one in Australia targeting this type of bvFTD, and one of a handful worldwide, showed that sodium selenate is safe and well-tolerated in patients with bvFTD over a period of 12 months.

The majority of patients receiving sodium selenate showed no change in their cognitive or behavioural symptoms, and reduced rates of brain atrophy over the trial period.

The results from the trial, led by Dr Lucy Vivash, from Monash University’s Department of Neuroscience, have just been published in the journal, Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

In almost half of the cases with bvFTD, the damage to the neurons in the brain is caused by the build-up of a protein called Tau. This protein is a major target for research in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia, as a way to reverse the neurodegeneration caused by this Tau accumulation.

According to Dr Vivash, sodium selenate upregulates an enzyme in the brain that effectively attacks the Tau protein.

“We have previously shown, in a Phase 2 trial, that patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who took sodium selenate experienced less neurodegeneration in those who did not,” she said.

In addition, those patients in the trial with higher levels of selenium, a breakdown product of sodium selenate, in their bloodstream showed less cognitive decline.

The research group is now conducting a larger study at many hospitals across Australia and New Zealand to further test whether this drug is beneficial for patients with bvFTD.

Read the full paper in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions.  journal titled: A Phase 1b Open Labelled Study of Sodium Selenate as a Disease Modifying Treatment for Possible Behavioural Variant Frontotemporal DementiaDOI: 10.1002/trc2.12299

About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

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