For the first time in human history, a group of British scientists have created a 'drug-like compound' that was found to halt the death of brain cells in mice who had neuro-degenerative disease. Many doctors are, perhaps preemptively, hailing the discovery as a turning point in the search for a medicine that can conquer Alzheimer's. The miracle pill that will treat (or even merely prevent) Alzheimer's is still a long ways off, but scientists at least have a solid lead on which direction to point their searches.
Neuro-degenerative diseases cause the degeneration by creating a signal inside the brain that tells the brain to stop producing some proteins. Those proteins would, if created, form the sheath around each neuron that protects it from its immediate environment. Without those proteins, neurons will still form, and they may function for some time, but they will be unprotected and they will eventually die.
Mice that had prion disease, which is one of the animal diseases that most closely mimics Alzheimer's disease, were tested. The scientists performing the experiment said they were "confident the same principles" would "apply to the human brain" affected by diseases like Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease.
Team leader Giovanna Mallucci said "It's the first time a substance has been given to mice that prevents brain disease. The fact that this is a compound that can be given orally, that gets into the brain and prevents brain disease, is a first in itself." Traditional oral medicines have had a very difficult time affecting the brain because of the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that prevents most large molecules -- and pharmaceuticals are known for being quite complex and thus quite large in the molecular sense -- from getting into the brain no matter how concentrated they are in the bloodstream.
Come back for Part II to read the rest of this exciting story!