Ruth Itzhaki makes a bizarre discovery about Alzheimer’s

A new, more effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease could be available in the next five to ten years, says Professor Ruth Itzhaki.

Professor Itzhaki, of the University of Manchester, has been leading studies into the main causes of Alzheimer’s. The findings indicate that the virus that causes cold sores may be one of the main roots of the condition, which affects more than 400,000 people in the UK. She says the discovery is a significant breakthrough and could lead to a completely new and improved way to treat the disease.

She tells People: “The research suggests that treatment could actually attack a major cause of the disease, as opposed to just dealing with the symptoms.”

The study, published in the Journal of Pathology, found that the cold sore virus, known as herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1), when combined with a certain genetic factor, may be responsible for about 60 per cent of Alzheimer’s cases. It has implicated the virus directly in the formation of the typical abnormal features of Alzheimer’s disease brains. According to Professor Itzhaki, drugs already used to tackle cold sores could form the basis of treatment for Alzheimer’s, and in future a preventative vaccine might be developed. “We want to investigate antiviral drugs in relation to Alzheimer’s. The more we know about that, the more we can treat the disease.” Yet she is struggling to secure funds to for the next stage of her research.

“The concept is novel and often new concepts are treated with hostility. We need funds so that we can look further into the effects of the virus and into antiviral action, and persuade pharmaceutical companies to set up trials. This could result in a cost-efficient way to deal with Alzheimer’s by preventing further deterioration.”

Professor Itzhaki was awarded an Investigator award from The Lancet, a Wellcome Trust Innovative award and an Olympus Foundation award for her research into Alzheimer’s.

Educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London, she is now based in Didsbury.

    Last updated: 4:40pm, January 14 2009