Alumni engagement and philanthropy


14 February 2018

A team led by Professor Chris Edwards, of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and Dr Bernadette McGuiness, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Queen’s, has been awarded £400,000 by the Alzheimer’s Society to take forward research to explore if drugs prescribed for arthritis could reduce the risk of patients developing dementia.

New research suggests that drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could reduce the risk of patients developing dementia.

A team led by Professor Chris Edwards, of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and colleagues at the University of Oxford, analysed the records of more than 5,800 people living with the condition across the UK.

The study, published in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions, compared 3,876 patients who took disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) with 1,938 patients who did not.

The researchers found that 3% of people who were not taking DMARDs developed dementia over the 15 years of the study, but people who were taking DMARDs had about half the risk, with only 1.5% developing dementia in the same time period. It’s not possible to completely rule out other reasons for the different risk of dementia between these groups, but it’s clear that this area of research should be explored further.

Speaking in the Daily Telegraph, Peter Passmore, Professor of Ageing and Geriatric Medicine at Queen’s, said the findings were interesting and warranted further trials being carried out.

“There has always been an interest in this area since early reports of a lower incidence of dementia in people with rheumatoid arthritis and the possible role for example of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” he said.

Alzheimer’s Society is now funding Dr Bernadette McGuiness from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, who is working with Professor Edwards to take this research further, looking at a group of drugs for arthritis that act on an aspect of inflammation that is known to be particularly important in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr McGuiness said: “This new funding from Alzheimer’s Society will help us make real progress in understanding the potential of anti-inflammatory drugs for people with dementia. We will be carrying out a comprehensive study of particular drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis called TNF inhibitors which show promise to slow down the decline of people’s thinking skills.

“If this project is successful it will pave the way for a clinical trial to test whether this drug can slow or stop Alzheimer’s disease in people who don’t have arthritis,” she concluded.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “As this was an observational study, not a clinical trial, further research is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions about arthritis drugs as a treatment for dementia.

“It’s vital to explore whether drugs developed for other conditions also have benefits for dementia, as it could make it much quicker to get new drugs to the people who desperately need them. Alzheimer’s Society is prioritising this approach to research and currently funding a study to see whether arthritis drugs can boost memory and reduce dementia risk.”

Currently there are over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease the most common form. It is estimated that by 2025 this number will rise to over 1 million. Currently there is no cure for the disease but if it is detected early new drugs can slow down its progression.

To support medical research at Queen’s, visit the Development Office website or contact Helen Surgenor, (Head of Medical Fundraising), telephone 028 9097 1568.

Media inquiries to Communications Office at Queen's University Belfast on tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3091.

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