Researchers have discovered the first chemical that could prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease.
Researchers at the University of Leicester have conducted tests on mice that have showed all brain cell death from prion disease could be prevented. However scientists say that whilst more work will be needed to develop a drug that could be taken by patients the resulting medicine could treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other diseases.
The researches at the university’s Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit focused on the natural defence mechanisms built into brain cells.
The study showed that mice with prion disease developed severe memory and movement problems and died within 12 weeks. However, those who were given the compound showed no sign of the brain tissue wasting away.
Lead researcher Prof Giovanna Mallucci told the BBC news website: “They were absolutely fine, it was extraordinary.
“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.”
She said the compound offered a “new pathway that may well give protective drugs” and the next step was for drug companies to develop a medicine for use in humans.
Tests were also carried on out other forms of neurodegeneration in mice; however the results are yet to be published.
There were side effects to the treatment with the compound acting on the pancreas meaning some of the mice developed a mild form of diabetes and lost weight. However this gives scientists and drug companies a starting point.
Commenting on the research Prof Roger Morris, from King’s College London, said: “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.”
He told the BBC a cure for Alzheimer’s was not imminent but: “I’m very excited, it’s the first proof in any living animal that you can delay neurodegeneration.
“The world won’t change tomorrow, but this is a landmark study.”