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Chemical may prevent death of brain tissue

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A research team from the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit, based at the University of Leicester, and led by researcher Prof Giovanna Mallucci, has discovered a chemical that can prevent the death of brain tissue (Published in Science Translational Medicine),

The discovery has been claimed to be a “turning point” in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Although more work is needed before a drug can be developed scientists hope this chemical could eventually treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other diseases.

In tests on mice, the Medical Research Council showed all brain cell death from prion disease could be prevented. Under normal conditions, the mice with prion disease died within 12 weeks.

However, those given the chemical showed no sign of brain tissue wasting away.

Professor Roger Morris, from King’s College London, stold the BBC that, “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.”

When a virus attacks brain cells it causes a build-up of viral proteins. Surrounding brain cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus’s spread.

In degenerative brain diseases there is usually the presence of plaque or ‘misfolded’ proteins, and the brain shuts down in the same way, although more severely and for longer, leading to starvation of the brain cells and death. This results in a loss of memory, movement and can even kill.

The Leicester researchers used a chemical, which prevented the defence mechanisms occurring in their laboratory mice.

While this is the first ever chemical to stop neurodegeneration, much work needs to be done before a drug could be made available to humans.

But the potential is huge. In different diseases there are different protein problems but this chemical seems capable of dealing with any such protein. For example, in Huntington’s, it’s the Huntingtin protein; in Parkinson’s, it’s the alpha-synuclein protein; in Alzheimer’s, it’s amyloid and tau.

However, side-effects were noted, particularly in the pancreas and the treated mice developed diabetes while also losing weight.