A lab mouse in Bar Harbor, Maine 2006 (Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
"This finding, I suspect, will be judged by history as a turning point in the search for medicines to control and prevent Alzheimer's."
That's Professor Roger Morris from King's College London, talking to the BBC about a major discovery that researchers hope could help fight many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's. A team of researchers at the University of Leicester's Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit is responsible for the findings.
The team has discovered the first-ever chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue due to a neurodegenerative disease, and they say it could provide a "new pathway" that could lead to the creation of protective drugs. So far, the chemical has only been tested on mice, and more work is required before it can be developed into a drug that could be taken by human patients.
But the discovery is being hailed as a major milestone in the fight against the disease because it's the first time any form of neurodegeneration (in the case of the tested mice, a form of prion disease) has been completely halted.
"We were extremely excited when we saw the treatment stop the disease in its tracks and protect brain cells, restoring some normal behaviours and preventing memory loss in the mice," Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who led the team, told the Leicester Mercury.
One potential stumbling block for the creation of a drug compound: some side effects were observed in the mice, including weight loss and damage to the pancreas.
"We are still a long way from a usable drug for humans – this compound had serious side effects," Mallucci said. "But the fact that we have established that this pathway can be manipulated to protect against brain cell loss first with genetic tools and now with a compound, means that developing drug treatments targeting this pathway for prion and other neurodegenerative diseases is now a real possibility.”
Michael J. Fox, a prominent Parkinson's advocate, was in the red chair this past December, and he talked about how the Michael J. Fox Foundation is actively working with big pharmaceutical companies to discover ways to improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s. Check out that clip below: