Scientists hail breakthrough in Alzheimer's research
Researchers develop drug that halts diseased brain cells from dying
Although it is still in the development stage, researchers have discovered a drug that halts the progression of diseased brain cells from dying. This could have momentous implication for Alzheimer's research, along with other brain-based conditions such as Parkinson's and motor neurone disease. Excited scientists say all of this could possibly be combined into a single pill.
"This finding, I suspect, will be judged by history as a turning point in the search for medicines to control and prevent Alzheimer's disease," Professor Roger Morris, of King's College London says.
In Alzheimer's disease, brains are clogged up by a sticky, "mis-folded" protein. Current research is trying to find drugs that break up the toxic protein and clear it from the brain. The latest study, from scientists funded by the Medical Research Council took a different approach.
In lieu of "declogging" the brain, these scientists looked at how the mis-folded proteins damage it. In much the same way as a deck-chair needs to be opened and closed in a certain way, the proteins in our cells have to be folded in a certain way if they are to work properly.
Research on laboratory animals showed that misshapen proteins do not directly kill brain cells. Cells die because in a misguided attempt to protect themselves, they stop making new proteins which are vital for their survival.
Research proved it was possible to give mice a drug that switches protein production back on, and stops brain disease in its tracks. Treated mice were symptom-free. Untreated animals, on the other hand developed memory and movement problems and eventually died.
"It was very striking. The treated mice were completely protected. More importantly, their brains were completely protected," lead scientist Giovanna Mallucci, of the University of Leicester said.
The mis-folded brain protein called a prion which causes scrapie, a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the nervous systems of sheep and goats. It's believed a similar process is behind several other brain diseases, including Alzheimer's, motor neurone and Parkinson's diseases.
The drug had severe side-effects and any new treatments for people are at least a decade away.
"This is the first convincing report that a small drug, of the type most conveniently turned into medicines, stops the progressive death of neurons in the brain as found, for instance, in Alzheimer's disease," Morris said.
"True, this study has been done in mice, not in man; and it is a prion disease, not Alzheimer's, that has been cured.
"But there is considerable evidence that the way neurons die in both diseases is similar."
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