A chemical substance has been identified which shows signs of being able to halt a range of neurodegenerative diseases in mice. This may well be a historic event in research, although more research is required; the development of drug treatments for humans with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases (plus possibly more conditions) could be a decade or more away.
Researchers at the University of Leicester’s Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit, investigating prion disease in mice, have found a common feature across all types of brain cell death. Looking at the natural defence mechanisms of brain cells, they found that brain cells respond by shutting down protein production when attacked by a virus (in order to halt the virus’s spread).
A range of neurodegenerative diseases involve the formation of faulty or “misfolded” proteins, and these activate similar defence mechanisms. In Parkinson’s Disease it is alpha-synuclein which is the errant protein, in Alzheimer’s Disease it is amyloid and tau, and in the case of Huntingdon’s Disease it is another different protein. The researchers believe the specific errant protein is irrelevant, because it is how cells deal with misfolded protein which is important. The presence of misfolded proteins causes brain cells to shut down protein production for a long period, eventually resulting in cell death.
The researchers believe they may be able to disrupt this process by the administration of a particular compound, thereby halting neurodegeneration; at least in mice with prion disease so far.
Discovery ‘could hold key to Alzheimer’s treatment’. London: BBC Health News, October 9th 2013.
See also the NHS Choices appraisal of this research for a wider perspective:
‘Historic breakthrough’ in Alzheimer’s research. London: NHS Choices; Behind the Headlines, October 10th 2013.
This relates to:
Full Text Link (Note: This article requires a suitable Athens password, a journal subscription or payment for access).
Moreno, J. A. Halliday, M. [and] Molloy, C. [et al] (2013). Oral treatment targeting the unfolded protein response prevents neurodegeneration and clinical disease in prion-infected mice. Science Translational Medicine. 5, 206ra138. [Epub, ahead of print].
More BBC News analysis and commentary:
Gallagher, J. (2013). Alzheimer’s breakthrough: Cure or hype? London: BBC Health News, October 10th 2013.
The next 2012 BBC News article went “under the radar” at the time, but now has re-invigorated interest:
Gallagher, J. (2012). Range of brain diseases could be treated by single drug. London: BBC Health News, May 6th 2012.
Wish to Read More?
The history of ideas – and a summary of the research progress – leading up to these developments, are covered more fully via a review of the lead researcher’s publication history; this is found in a related post.
Samples of articles, mostly available free, from international teams of neuroscientists and neurologists (whose work, collectively, is likely to be the subject of discussions at the G8 Dementia Summit) are available to browse.
2014: Year in Review
It turned-out that this news story went “cold” during 2014, with little freshly published research as follow-up. Early optimism on this research-front may reach fruition in the next decade or two… Watch this space in 2015?
Was The Guardian’s 2014 crystal ball accurate? London: NHS Choices; Behind the Headlines, December 30th 2014.