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20 April 2015 09:35
Scientists found the drug DFMO can prevent memory loss in mice
A drug currently being trialled to treat cancer has been shown to potentially prevent Alzheimer's disease in mice.
The research, which has been welcomed by the Alzheimer's Society, has been hailed as a breakthrough in finding new treatments for dementia.
Scientists from Duke University in the US discovered that immune cells in the brains of mice with Alzheimer's consumed a vital nutrient called arginine.
However, they were able to halt this process using the drug DFMO, staving off the build-up of dangerous brain plaques and preventing memory loss.
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The latest study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, analysed mice that had been genetically engineered to make their immune systems more similar to humans.
Senior author Carol Colton, professor of neurology at the Duke University School of Medicine, says the research could "open the doors" to thinking about Alzheimer's in a completely different way, and break the "stalemate of ideas".
It had previously been thought that in dementia cases the brain releases molecules which send the immune system into overdrive, apparently damaging the brain.
But the study found a heightened expression of genes associated with the suppression of the immune system.
Matthew Kan, who led the study, says the results are surprising because they contradict current thinking about the causes of Alzheimer's disease.
Rodents that had been given the drug DFMO to block arginase, an enzyme that breaks down arginine, were found to perform better in memory tests.
Dementia currently costs the UK economy more than £26 billion each year, and it is feared that around one person every three minutes may develop the disease.
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