Neurodegenerative Disease

Health - Neurodegenerative disease - About the sector - text web content

Europe has a rapidly ageing population. Currently, 16% of the European population is over 65, and this figure is expected to reach 25% by 2030. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are debilitating and largely untreatable conditions that are strongly linked to age.

Neurodegenerative disease is an umbrella term for a range of conditions which primarily affect the neurons in the human brain. These diseases are currently incurable, being debilitating conditions that result in progressive degeneration and / or death of nerve cells and causing problems with movement (called ataxias) and/or mental functioning (called dementias).

Neurodegenerative diseases Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, brain cancer, degenerative nerve diseases, encephalitis, epilepsy, genetic brain disorders, head and brain malformations, hydrocephalus, stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease), Huntington's disease, prion diseases, and others.

Dementias are responsible for the greatest burden of disease with Alzheimer’s representing approximately 60-70% of cases. Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders affecting over 7 million people in Europe, and this figure is expected to double every 20 years as the population ages.

It currently costs approximately EUR 130 billion per annum to care for people with dementia across Europe, making age-related neurodegenerative disease one of the leading societal challenges faced by EU Member States. Alzheimer’s disease is particularly expensive to manage due to its insidious onset, its ever-increasing levels of disability and the length of time over which the condition extends itself (average duration: 2 to 10 years).

Existing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases are very limited, and only treat the symptoms, rather than addressing the cause. In addition, no new drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has been approved in the past five years.

The role of nanotechnology in the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases includes the use of semi-invasive devices for drug delivery, implantation of advanced neurostimulators using nano-enhanced imaging techniques and the possibility of combining imaging and drug carrier features, making for early diagnosis and targeted therapy. More personalised treatment will become possible if nanotechnology, biotechnology and engineering can be combined to measure a patient’s genetic predisposition to side effects and their drug response characteristics. Less intrusive and miniaturised devices can offer enhanced acceptability in patients, an advantage perhaps particularly relevant to people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases and other neurological conditions. Further in the future, nanotechnology may contribute to site-specific delivery of neuro-active molecules and techniques for regeneration of the central nervous system.

1. OECD (2014), Health at a Glance: Europe 2014 OECD Publishing.