"The worst thing about dementia is that you progressively lose the person that you love," says Anne Tudor, and she knows it first hand.
Her partner, Edie Mayhew, 65, was diagnosed six years ago with early onset Alzheimer's disease. The Ballarat couple try to stay positive, and travel interstate and overseas giving talks on healthy living.
But Ms Tudor has watched as Ms Mayhew, a former driving instructor, has lost the ability to cook a meal, choose clothes and remember conversations.
They welcomed the news that human trials will begin in Melbourne on Monday for a new drug that has been shown to halt the progression of Alzheimer's disease in mice and to reverse memory loss.
Volunteers who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's are being sought to take an oral medication and be monitored on its effects.
The study's lead researcher, Austin Health associate professor Michael Woodward, said the drug, called CT1812, had been found in mice to negate the effects of the toxic protein amyloid beta – which causes Alzheimer's – at both cellular and behavioural level, and to improve memory.
He said the new drug could slow or halt the human progression of Alzheimer's, from which 350,000 Australians currently suffer, with one million projected to be diagnosed by 2050.
Susan Catalano, chief science officer of the trial's backers, private US biotech company Cognition Therapeutics, or CogRx, said previous therapies had focused on trying to eliminate plaques caused by the build-up of amyloid beta in the brain.
The new approach focused on how these proteins link together to form clumps called oligomers, which bind to receptors in the synapses responsible for communication between brain cells.
The binding process kills off parts of the receptors and, in turn, disables the synapses. The process of memory formation fails, and Alzheimer's symptoms start to appear.
Dr Catalano said the drug CT1812 had been found – in mice that had been genetically engineered to over-produce amyloid beta – to shield synapses from the effects of oligomers It did this by the drug itself binding to one type of receptor, changing the receptor's shape so the oligomers are either unable to take hold, or are displaced.
A selection of CogRx study drugs, including CT1812, reversed the memory loss after one month of treatment and sustained the memory improvement for six months.
Volunteers aged 50 to 80 are needed for the trial at Austin Health, in Heidelberg, Melbourne Health at Parkville, Epworth Hospital in Richmond and with Dr Philip Morris in Southport, Queensland from now until January.
Associate Professor Woodward said previous studies had tried to neutralise amyloid beta, but this therapy was about protecting cells from its effects – "a very new and refreshing approach".
Ms Mayhew welcomed the trial and said she would consider signing up. "If it can help other people with dementia, then I'm happy to do it. It might help me as well," she said.
Ms Tudor said: "It sounds really promising. We'd love to see something to stop it from getting worse – or even better, to prevent it from happening in the first place."
Potential drug trial participants and/or carers can call 1800 558 952 or visit this website.