London: In a major breakthrough,
scientists have developed a single daily pill which they claim
could halt Alzheimer`s in its tracks -- it stops brain cells
from dying, boosting their numbers and sharpening memory.
Given early enough, the drug, known as P7C3, could
prevent sufferers from reaching the devastating final stages
of the disease, in which they lose the ability to walk, talk
and even swallow, say the scientists.
They have found the drug after testing more than 1,000
chemicals on mice.
"We really didn`t know if the screen would turn up
a favourable compound or not. It was blind luck," Dr Steven
McKnight, who led an international team, was quoted by the
`Daily Mail` as saying.
In tests, the drug boosted the production of cells in
a part of the brain critical to memory.
Dr McKnight, of the University of Texas Southwestern,
said: "These mice are bad at making new neurons. The question
was, `Can you fix that?` And the answer to that was `yes`."
Not only did the new brain cells form, but they also worked
properly, according to the findings.
In other experiments, the drug improved memory
in ageing rats, making it easier for them to find their way
through a maze. Further research showed that a derivative of
the compound, called A20, had an even bigger impact on brain.
The scientists are still trying to find out how the
drug works. It appears to prevent a process called apoptosis,
which causes cells, including many newly-formed brain cells,
to self-destruct. It seems to give a boost to mitochondria,
the tiny batteries that power cells.
The scientists hope the chemical can be turned into a
once-a-day pill. Those with multiple sclerosis, Huntington`s
disease and schizophrenia might also benefit.
Dr McKnight said: "The neuroprotective compound
P7C3 holds special promise because of its medicationfriendly
properties. It can be taken orally, crosses the blood-brain
barrier with long-lasting effects, and is safely tolerated by
mice during many stages of development."
The findings have been published in the latest edition
of the `Cell` journal.