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21 October 2015 09:09
One in six people aged 80 and over have dementia, data suggests
Fresh ways to treat patients with Alzheimer's disease could be developed as a result of a new study, scientists hope.
Researchers in Belgium believe blocking the activity of the GPR3 protein could help keep the disease at bay.
The team studied lab mice with dementia-like symptoms and found that those which could not produce the protein displayed improved memory, learning and social skills.
The researchers say their tests on human brain tissue also suggest that Alzheimer's develops quicker when GPR3 is more active.
It has been estimated that in the UK some 850,000 people are living with dementia, something which can be covered among those going on holiday with a specialist dementia travel insurance policy.
It is hoped that people could be helped in the future by treatments designed to target the GPR3 protein.
The research team from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology say their study shows GPR3 plays a part in generating a build-up of protein fragments in the brain which hamper nerve cell function.
But when the protein was removed in lab mice, new fragments were not formed and existing deposits cleared, they report in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
The research has been led by the institute's Dr Amantha Thathiah. She says the team's findings suggest cognitive decline can be alleviated by a lack of GPR3.
And that, Dr Thathiah adds, identifies the protein as a potential drug target for scientists seeking to combat Alzheimer's disease.
A successful drug therapy would have to include a molecule that disrupts the protein's signalling pathway.
Some existing drugs - used to treat allergies, heartburn and psychosis - target proteins in the family to which GPR3 belongs.
But because the precise way GPR3 functions is still not completely understood, discovering a treatment for dementia will prove to be more difficult than just using one of them.
The symptoms of dementia can include memory loss and difficulties with language, problem solving and thinking. It is caused when the brain gets damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer's or by a series of strokes.
By the mid-2020s, it is estimated that the number of people with dementia in Britain will exceed one million.
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