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Published on: January 3, 2013
by Jessica Marszalec for News limited Network:
One million Australians may be spared the spiral of dementia if new research can free sufferers’ brains of toxins.
Research into the debilitating condition that affects 300,000 Australians, and which will affect 900,000 by 2050, normally concentrates on what’s happening inside the brain. But Monash University’s Joseph Nicolazzo has scored $281,500 from the National Health and Medical Research Council to examine a series of pumps on the blood-brain barrier that get lazy in Alzheimers patients.
It’s thought this decreased pump action traps a build-up of the toxic protein amyloid in the brain, killing nerve cells.
“It’s generally believed that approaches that can decrease amyloid have the potential to reverse the dementia,” Dr Nicolazzo said.
He said most research into Alzheimers – the most common form of dementia that destroys memory and judgement skills – looks at stopping the production of amyloid.
But he is collaborating with the University of Washington to figure out how to get those pumps working again, safely kicking the toxin out of brain tissue and into circulating blood, as in healthy bodies.
“It’s a different approach,” he said. “Everyone’s so focused in on the brain. We’re looking on the outskirts … the door to the brain.”
“If the door is dysfunctional, then things are going to get stuck in the room that shouldn’t be there.”
In “fairly compelling” preliminary work, researchers had doubled the number of working shuttle pumps in mice, he said.
“During the disease you get up to a 70 per cent drop in the levels of these pumps and we’ve been able to double the levels of these pumps with these treatments,” he said.
“Hopefully this will then lead to increased traffic, but that is something we need to test.”
Research will then look at the memories of mice, to see if the improved as pumps worked harder. Dr Nicolazzo hoped the research could produce new drugs to reverse dementia.
The grant is one of 92 totalling $50 million awarded by Minister for Ageing Mark Butler to investigate age-related diseases. Mr Butler said such projects offered “enormous potential” for sufferers of Alzheimers.
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