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Science
FRONTIERS
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Wednesday 21:00-21:30
Frontiers explores new ideas in science, meeting the researchers who see the world through fresh eyes and challenge existing theories - as well as hearing from their critics. Many such developments create new ethical and moral questions and Frontiers is not afraid to consider these.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
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Listen to 16 April
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Wednesday 16 April 2003
Changes in the Brain in AD
Changes in the brain due to AD

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the commonest degenerative mental illnesses. It’s estimated that up to 700,000 in the UK suffer from it, and as the population ages, the figure is expected to rise to about 850,000 by 2020. Caring for people with Alzheimer’s Disease costs the UK over £1billion a year.

In the first of a new series of Frontiers, Peter Evans talks to doctors and researchers about our current state of knowledge of Alzheimer’s Disease. We know that tangles of fibrous tau protein build up inside the nerve cells, and that amyloid plaques form in the synapses between cells. But while therapies that slow the rate of memory loss are now available, we’re still a long way from discovering the mechanism that triggers the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

With help from Dr Richard Harvey, Director of Research for the Alzheimer’s Society, and Professor David Smith who leads the OPTIMA project (Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing), Peter Evans looks to the future: how soon will it be before we can pinpoint the cause of the disease? Are there steps we ourselves can take to slow down or even prevent the chemical changes in our brains that lead to the condition? Peter talks to Steven Rose, Professor of Biology at the Open University, whose researches into the processes of memory might help us develop new drug therapies that could reverse some of the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Professor Rudi Tanzi describes our current state of knowledge about the genetics of Alzheimer’s. Peter also talks to Dale Schenk from the Elan Corporation in America who is working on an Alzheimer’s vaccine. Trials are currently suspended after some patients suffered brain inflammation, but Dr Schenk believes that vaccines still provide the best hope for treatment in the future.

Peter also wonders whether pharmacological measures to treat Alzheimer’s Disease might eventually find broader usage among the mentally fit. We don’t think twice about taking vitamins or food supplements to improve our health or stamina. With the development of drugs that enhance cognitive ability, might we reach a point when we can pop into our chemist and buy what’s been dubbed ‘Viagra for the brain’?

Next week: Gravity Probe B
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