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Alzheimer’s Breakthrough: Researchers Prevent Brain Cells from Dying

Update Date: Oct 10, 2013 09:34 AM EDT

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Once it manifests, brain cells start to die and cognitive function declines. Due to the fact that there is no cure for Alzheimer's, attempting to prevent it or treating it as soon as possible are the two main methods in dealing with this disease. Even though these approaches can be effective for some people, finding a cure would be ideal. Now, in a new study done on mice models, researchers reported that they used a chemical that was capable of preventing brain cells from dying in a neurodegenerative disease.

"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 from King's college London said reported by BBC News. "'I'm very excited, it's the first proof in any living animal that you can delay neurodegeneration."

For this study, the researcher from the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit, which is located at the University of Leicester, examined the brain cells' natural defense mechanisms. When a neurodegenerative disease develops, the brain produces faulty proteins. These proteins will activate the defense mechanisms that shut down protein production, which prevents the virus from spreading. In this situation, however, the faulty protein stays longer than usual, which causes the brain to remain in shut down mode longer than it needs to be. This then causes the brain cells to starve until they die.

For this study, the research team observed mice with prion disease that developed severe memory and movement complications. The rodents had died within 12 weeks if they did not receive treatment. The mice that were given the compound, however, had brains that showed no signs of tissue damage. The compound was injected into the mice's stomachs via a mouth tube. The team is currently testing the compounds on multiple types of neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers have reported that one major issue with the compound is the side effects. Mice developed a mild form of diabetes, lost weight and had damage in their pancreas.

"They were absolutely fine, it was extraordinary," lead researcher and professor, Giovanna Mallucci said. "What's really exciting is a compound has completely prevented neurodegeneration and that's a first. This isn't the compound you would use in people, but it means we can do it and it's a start."

The researchers know that developing a compound that could be used on humans is still not possible yet. However, they believe that the findings from this study suggest that they are getting closer and closer to a cure.

"The world won't change tomorrow, but this is a landmark study," Morris added.

The study was published in Science Translation Medicine.

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