The trial, which is funded jointly by the Alzheimer’s Society and the British Heart Foundation, is the first ever large clinical trial for patients with subcortical vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is caused by problems with the blood supply to the brain and affects over 150,000 nationwide and 18,000 people in Northern Ireland. Those with high blood pressure, heart conditions, high cholesterol and diabetes are especially at risk, and it can be triggered by a stroke. There are currently no available treatments for vascular dementia.
Researchers from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s will recruit nearly 600 people with vascular dementia for the trial. The researchers, led by Professor Peter Passmore, hope to show that 10mg a day of the drug can significantly improve memory and cognitive health. As amlodipine is already licensed and known to be safe, the treatment – which costs the NHS just £1.07 a month – could be in use as a treatment within five to ten years.
Amlodipine belongs to a class of drugs known as calcium channel blockers, which are widely used to treat high blood pressure. This will be the largest study to specifically test the drugs in people with vascular dementia, the most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. This trial will test the drug on people with the most common form of vascular dementia, but not in those whose condition was triggered by stroke.
Amlodipine is used to treat high blood pressure, a major risk factor for vascular dementia. It is known to enter the brain and researchers think it might work by protecting brain cells from damage when blood supply to the brain is poor. Professor Peter Passmore from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, and lead investigator, said: “Vascular dementia is a very common disease and to date no major trial has been successful in developing an effective treatment for this disease. We hope, using evidence from previous research, and by trialling the drug amlodipine we may get a step closer to improving the outcomes of patients with vascular dementia within the next decade.”
Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Society said: “It’s scandalous that despite affecting 150,000 people there are no effective treatments for vascular dementia and very few new treatments under investigation. This groundbreaking trial could be the best hope we have to get an effective treatment in use in the next decade.
“Developing new drugs from scratch can costs hundreds of millions and take up to twenty years but our flagship Drug Discovery programme aims to test existing drugs in people with dementia, fast-tracking the process and bringing new treatments to market faster and more cheaply.”
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said: “The 2.3 million people living with coronary heart disease in the UK are at increased risk of developing vascular dementia. Unfortunately, as yet, there are no effective treatments for this devastating condition.
“Amlodipine is a widely prescribed, blood pressure lowering treatment that has shown some promising effects in vascular dementia. The BHF and Alzheimer’s Society have joined forces to fund this definitive study. If positive, it would pave the way for an affordable treatment for vascular dementia in the near future.”