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Alzheimer's Breakthrough

DW staff (jam)April 24, 2008

Researchers in Dresden have made a breakthrough in the search for a effective tool against Alzheimer's disease, although it may not be ready for human use for another decade.

researcher in lab
Dresden researchers have found a what could become a potent new treatmentImage: AP

A report on Thursday in the journal Science described how German scientists have developed a compound that blocks an enzyme responsible for the build-up of sticky deposits, or plaque, that is thought to play a central role in the development of Alzheimer's.

The treatment uses an "anchor" to attach the compound to the right spot on the cell wall where the toxic activity takes place.

mouse in lab
Tests on mice have been very promisingImage: DW-TV

According to Kai Simons of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology in Dresden, the treatment could be available for use by humans in five to ten years.

Further tests

Tests on mice, in which the compound was directly injected into their brains, reduced plaque formation by 50 percent within four hours. Now scientists are conducted further animal tests to see if the compound given by mouth or standard injection can pass the "blood-brain barrier."

Medicines must be able to cross the natural barrier protecting the brain from chemicals in the blood if they are to be effective.

two elderly people
As lives grow longer, the incidence of Alzheimer's increasesImage: DW-TV

Alzheimer's research is a fast-growing field, since the number of patients is rising as lifespans get longer. Developing effective treatments, however, has been difficult. Drugs on the market now can ease symptoms but do not stop the disease's progression.

The World Health Organization estimates there are about 18 million people around the globe with Alzheimer's disease. By 2025, that number is expected to reach 34 million.