10/10/2013 09:10 BST | Updated 10/10/2013 10:04 BST

Alzheimer's Disease Research Reaches 'Turning Point' As Chemical Preventing Death Of Brain Tissue Discovered


A breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer's disease has been described as a "turning point".

Scientists have discovered the first chemical able to prevent the death of brain tissue.

Although more research will need to take place to create a treatment suitable for patients, the resulting drug could treat a host of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.

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"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," said Professor Roger Morris, of King’s College London in a statement.

"When a virus hijacks a brain cell it leads to a build-up of viral proteins. Cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus's spread.

"However, many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty or 'misfolded' proteins. These activate the same defences, but with more severe consequences.

"The misfolded proteins linger and the brain cells shut down protein production for so long that they eventually starve themselves to death."

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In the past researchers have tried to rid the brain of these 'misfolded' proteins, but this study takes a different approach.

Experimenting on mice, scientists were able to reactivate brain cells' protein production, stopping the brain disease and symptoms such as memory loss.

Although this development is exciting, it will be about 10 years until the drug is available.

“We’re still a long way from a usable drug for humans," said lead scientist Professor Giovanna Mallucci, from the MRC toxicology unit at the University of Leicester.

“But the fact that we have established that this pathway can be manipulated to protect against brain cell loss means that developing drug treatments targeting this pathway for neurodegenerative diseases is now a real possibility.”