Alzheimer’s symptoms could be prevented by targeting a protein that destroys the brain connections, a study suggests.
Scientists have found they can neutralise the protein, largely responsible for Alzheimer’s symptoms, using a specific antibody.
Lead researcher, Dr Patricia Salinas of Universoty College London, hopes the findings could lead to a drug treatment that protects against the effects of Alzheimer’s in the next 10 years.
Previous studies have linked the build-up of toxic protein amyloid-beta to Alzheimer’s disease but the latest research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, has found that amyloid-beta stimulates the production of another protein, Dkk1.
Dkk1 destroys the connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to learning and memory.
Laboratory tests on mice revealed that Dkk1 can be neutralised with an antibody without any damage to the exposed neurons.
Dr Salinas said: "These novel findings raise the possibility that targeting this secreted Dkk1 protein could offer an effective treatment to protect synapses against the toxic effect of amyloid-beta," she said.
"Importantly, these results raise the hope for a treatment and perhaps the prevention of cognitive decline early in Alzheimer's disease."
Dkk1 helps the brain construct its “wiring” in early development but it has no known function later in life when its production can be increased by amyloid-beta.
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "By understanding what happens in the brain during Alzheimer's, we stand a better chance of developing new treatments that could make a real difference to people with the disease.
"Studies like this are an essential part of that process but more work is needed if we are to take these results from the lab bench to the clinic."
This morning, speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Professor Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, called upon the World Health Organisation to prioritise dementia alongside other conditions like cancer, lung disease and heart disease.
Professor Piot debunked the common misconception that dementia is a natural part of ageing and challenged the notion that nothing can be done to tackle it, but said that a lack of research funding could make dementia a “global health time bomb”.
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Professor Piot is quite right to declare dementia a global health priority, which will be further thrown into relief by a forecast doubling in those living with the condition in the next generation. The social and economic impact of dementia in the UK and Europe is already enormous, but it is set to explode in the developing world in the coming years. While we have taken the initiative of developing a national dementia strategy at home, similar action plans will be needed around the world.
“The care challenge dementia poses now and in the future is profound, but investment in research now could pay dividends in future. The only answer to dementia is high quality research to deliver new effective treatments; that research funding lags so far behind other diseases is a sad fact that could become our biggest failure to those affected.”