WORDS FROM OUR PRESIDENT
As many of you know, I work in the dementia space, running FRONTIER, the clinical research group on frontotemporal dementia and related younger-onset dementias at the Brain and Mind Centre of the University of Sydney. We see primarily people who exhibit changes in behaviour, personality and cognition in their 40s or 50s. Indeed, dementia is not just a disease of old age with 10% of individuals living with dementia being younger than 65 years. Not surprisingly, dementia in that age group is associated with challenges that are different to a dementia diagnosis later in life, affecting families in their working life, and often with young children.
I have just returned from the International Conference on Frontotemporal Dementias, which was held in Lille, in Northern France in early November. The excitement among delegates and speakers of the conference was palpable. For many – myself included – it was their first international conference since 2019. Being able to reconnect with friends and colleagues face to face was a real treat. Many new projects and international collaborations were discussed during the few days of the conference! This enthusiasm demonstrates the importance of direct contact in social interactions and the limitations of virtual meetings. Indeed, many of these new ideas were hatched on the sideline of the program, either in between sessions or during the many social events that took place during the week.
Aside from this conference, it has also been exciting to see the progress made in the field of pharmacological treatments for dementia. Results from a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s disease were recently reported. The drug, Lecanemab, is a monoclonal antibody that has been demonstrated to reduce the amount of beta-Amyloid in the brain, one of the two toxic proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst definite evidence for a clinical impact of the drug is still pending, this new drug is promising and gives hope to thousands of people living with the most common form of dementia around the world.
In the field of frontotemporal dementia, the field is not as advanced, in part because of the multiple causes and different biological mechanisms involved in this type of dementia. Nevertheless, at the Lille conference, no fewer than 9 pharmaceutical companies presented preliminary data or outlined proposals for clinical trials to test novel compounds in frontotemporal dementia. When we organised the last conference on frontotemporal dementia in Sydney in 2018 (the 2020 meeting was cancelled because of COVID), only one pharmaceutical company was present. In addition, this company was focusing on symptom management, rather than on disease-modifying treatment.
The progress made in the past four years in this field has been truly outstanding and is indicating that real changes are on the horizon for the 400,000 people living with dementia in Australia and their families, although treatments are still likely some years away. Until then, we need to make sure that effort continues towards the development of appropriate services, support, and infrastructures that are still lacking.
As this is the last ‘words from the President’ for 2022, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2023.
Until next time, stay well and stay safe.
Olivier Piguet, President, ASSBI