Researchers at University of Exeter report major discovery over Alzheimer's
Pioneering work by Westcountry scientists has uncovered a major break-through in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Recent work in mice suggested that the immune system is involved in removing beta-amyloid, the main Alzheimer's-causing substance in the brain.
Researchers at the Peninsula College of Medicine
and Dentistry, University of Exeter, have now shown for the first time that this may apply in humans.
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Professor David Melzer, who led the work, said: “This is a very exciting result.”
Working with colleagues in the National Institute on Aging corr in the USA and in Italy, the researchers screened the “expression levels” of thousands of genes in blood samples from nearly 700 people.
The tell-tale marker of immune system activity against beta-amyloid, a gene called CCR2, emerged as the top marker associated with memory in people.
The team used a common clinical measure called the Mini Mental State Examination to measure memory and other cognitive functions.
The previous work in mice showed that augmenting the CCR2-activated part of the immune system in the blood stream resulted in improved memory and functioning in mice susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Melzer added: “It may be that CCR2-associated immunity could be strengthened in humans to slow Alzheimer’s disease, but much more work will be needed to ensure that this approach is safe and effective.”
The major breakthrough comes in a week that David Cameron has pledged to do all he can to tackle degenerative mental health conditions.
Mr Cameron declared that tackling the disease, which is thought to affect 670,000 people in England, was one of his personal priorities.
During a meeting on Thursday with a group working to help sufferers in their communities, Mr Cameron said changing the “national culture” surrounding the disease should be the first step.
He said: “Dementia is a terrible, heart-breaking disease – and tackling it is a personal priority of mine.
“Two months ago I promised that we’d lead an all-out, national fightback against
dementia – and it’s happening. We’re putting more money into research and more thought into dementia care.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects around 496,000 people in the UK.
Yet the Westcountry research has given those looking to better understand the condition a huge boost.
Its co-author, Dr Lorna Harries, said: “Identification of a key player in the interface between immune function and cognitive ability may help us to gain a better understanding of the disease processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.”