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19 April 2016, 06:00
A protein found lacking in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers could provide the key to a potential treatment, scientists believe.
Researchers say the discovery that the IL-33 protein has the ability to reverse cognitive decline in mice is "encouraging''.
IL-33 injections into mice with Alzheimer's-type disease found their memory and brain function rapidly improved within a week.
It has already been established that the brain of patients with Alzheimer's contains less of this particular protein than the brain of non-sufferers.
The latest study was led by scientists at Glasgow University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).
Glasgow professor Eddy Liew, who co-directed the research, said: "The relevance of this finding to human Alzheimer's is at present unclear. But there are encouraging hints.
"For example, previous genetic studies have shown an association between IL-33 mutations and Alzheimer's disease in European and Chinese populations.
"Exciting as it is, there is some distance between laboratory findings and clinical applications.
"There have been enough false 'breakthroughs' in the medical field to caution us not to hold our breath until rigorous clinical trials have been done. Nevertheless, this is a good start.''
The hallmarks of Alzheimer's include the presence of a type of deposit and also neurofibrillary 'tangles' in the brain, which build up and lead to the loss of connections between nerve cells and eventually to loss of brain tissue.
IL-33 appears to work by mobilising immune cells in the brain to reduce the number and size of the deposits.
It also inhibits inflammation in the brain tissue, which is associated with deposits and tangles forming in the first place.
The paper is published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS).