What does the future of brain health look like?

With one in three people born today likely to develop dementia in their lifetime, brain health has never been more relevant.

We are increasingly aware of the lifestyle factors that can help us take better care of our brain, but what could the future hold for treatment?

As the world’s population ages, the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease is predicted to reach epidemic proportions with huge financial impact on public healthcare, as well as being devastating for patients, families and caregivers.

Here in Scotland, researchers are leading the world in the field of life sciences, while organisations like Brain Health Scotland provide expert advice about brain health research, policy and healthcare.

We are increasingly aware of the lifestyle factors that can help us take better care of our brain, but what could the future hold for treatment?

As the world’s population ages, the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease is predicted to reach epidemic proportions

Research on our doorstep

Professor Claude Wischik, co-founder of TauRx Pharmaceuticals, has been studying tau pathology for 30 years since his PhD fuelled an entire research programme. Much of that research now takes place at the University of Aberdeen where he is now professor of Old Age Psychiatry.

“There is huge progress worldwide on brain health which is offering us all a greater understanding of the external risk factors, like a good diet and taking regular exercise, but a drug treatment is the key –this is where our global clinical trial program underpinned by basic research aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible for tau pathology is vital,” he explains.

He estimates the worldwide prevalence of tau aggregation in the brain – where tau protein misfolds, accumulates and forms tangles – to be around half of the population aged over 45.

Tau is a small protein with a short name but a huge reputation because of its association with multiple brain diseases

“Dementia remains the world’s greatest unmet medical need but research into tau-based therapeutics now offers a near-term hope.”

What is the tau protein?

Tau is a small protein with a short name but a huge reputation because of its association with multiple brain diseases.

The tau protein is predominantly found in brain cells: among its multiple functions in healthy brain cells, a very important one is stabilisation of the internal microtubules which support nerve cell structure and are used to transport essential signalling molecules to nerve endings or synapses.

Among tau's multiple functions in healthy brain cells, a very important one is stabilisation of the internal microtubules which support nerve cell structure

Tau and dementia

Tau proteins in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease are misfolded and form aggregates inside nerve cells called tangles. These tangles drive dementia by disrupting communication between brain cells and cause cell death and brain atrophy.

“There are a number of neurodegenerative brain diseases for which there is currently no cure, but where tau pathology plays a critical role,” explains Professor Wischik, the author of 150 scientific papers on the topic.

He leads a scientific research team dedicated to finding an effective treatment for brain neurodegeneration, complimented by diagnostic and monitoring tools. Early clinical trial data suggest that tau aggregation inhibitors have potential to clear these tangled, or misfolded, proteins in order to slow clinical decline and reduce the damage to synaptic transmission and brain function.

How it relates to sports-related injuries

The brain damage caused by head injuries and repeated concussions is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and it afflicts players and athletes of many sports, including rugby, football and American football.

A number of rigorously researched and peer-reviewed scientific papers have established the connection between traumatic brain injuries and tau pathology. CTE shares key features with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but currently there are no disease-modifying therapies for former sports people suffering from the memory loss, cognitive impairment, confusion, depression, and behavioural changes that can accompany the early-onset dementia stemming from CTE.

Brain health in Scotland

Brain Health Scotland's aim is to inspire and empower Scots of all ages to protect your brain health and reduce your risk of diseases that lead to dementia.

Director Professor Craig Ritchie, chair of Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh, says: “There are huge strides being taken in this field here in Scotland to better understand how the brain is damaged – and how it repairs.

“One in two of us know someone affected by dementia, and the scale of the issue continues to grow. Brain Health Scotland has been established with the singular objective of reducing the incidence of dementia over the next 10 years, which is why we support brain health research as one of the greatest ways to impact future success.”

More about TauRx Pharmaceuticals

TauRx is a global leader in tau-based Alzheimer’s disease research with a mission to discover, develop and commercialise innovative products for the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases caused by protein aggregation. They are currently working towards offering the first disease-modifying treatment targeting tau for the world’s greatest unmet medical need.

Find out more at www.taurx.com

To learn more about tau pathology, visit www.targetingtau.com