Scientists on target with dementia cure

Lab pic

Scientists are on target to develop a cure for dementia within the next 10 years, Alistair Burns, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia has said. 

He says he is confident there will be a cure for dementia, or at least a drug that will significantly slow down its progression, by 2025. 

Professor Burns, 56, who was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list, claims that advances in treatment will eventually catch up with those made in cancer care. 

More people are already being diagnosed with the illness, with an extra 10,000 people every month being added to the dementia register. 

“I think in my generation, and the aspiration is that by 2020 or 2025, we will find a treatment for dementia, or at least the commonest cause of dementia, which is Alzheimer’s disease, or something that will significantly slow down the progression of the illness,” Professor Burns said. 

“Dementia is a progressive illness, so something that slows down the progression, even though in the public’s imagination it might not be a cure, in other words be able to bring people back to exactly where they were before, but something that slows down the progression, or halts the progression, would be very important indeed.” 

In December, David Cameron said Britain would lead the search for a cure for dementia, something he described as “one of the greatest enemies of humanity.” 

In the Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne pledged at least £15 million towards a new fund focussed on boosting investment into dementia research. 

Professor Burns praised the Government for the work it has done, adding: “If I look back at the advances that have been made during the time that I have been interested in dementia, and in particularly the last few years and the Prime Minister’s support for dementia and research in general, it has really been extraordinarily helpful at getting people interested in the subject. 

“I would say in confidence that we are on target to develop something that will cure or significantly slow down dementia in the next 10 years, but these things are notoriously hard to predict.” 

The number of people being diagnosed with dementia has been steadily rising and as of December an estimated 394,000 people had been added to the dementia register, up from 250,000 in 2009.

Since March the numbers have jumped from 349,000 with an extra 10,000 people a month now being added to the register. 

Professor Burns said more can still be done to tackle the stigma around dementia to help drive up diagnosis rates, which has in the past meant that only half of sufferers have a formal diagnosis. 

Read the latest blog by Professor Alistair Burns: GPs have a vital care home dementia role.

Published 21st February 2015

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