SOUTHAMPTON scientists have given new hope to Alzheimer’s sufferers.

A potential breakthrough has been found in the battle against the disease after researchers discovered a drug that halts its progression.

They found that medication which is usually given to treat arthritis also stopped the symptoms of dementia progressing.

Those leading the trial of the drug, called Etanercept, said they were excited by the results which were described as “unexpected”.

In delivering his findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagan yesterday, Prof Clive Holmes said a bigger clinical trial was now needed over a longer period of time to prove the drug’s effectiveness.

The results followed a small control study on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

Forty-one participants were either given the drug or a saltwater placebo every week for six months.

They were then assessed for memory function, efficiency of day-to-day activities and behaviour.

Results showed that patients who were given Etanercept did not decline during the six month follow up, compared to those on the placebo whose symptoms did get worse.

Professor Holmes, added: “Our results are better than we expected. We have shown that using Etanercept in patients who have Alzheimer’s disease would be safe and has positive outcomes after six months. However this is a small study and should now be tested in a larger clinical trial.”

The results have been welcomed by dementia charities.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “After many years of research into the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s, led by the team in Southampton, it’s promising to see a compound targeting this process showing encouraging early results in people.”