A simple injection of protein may be the key to reversing the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, according to a study.
Researchers in Scotland found that the condition of mice susceptible to the condition improved when injected with the protein.
The treatment – Interleukin 33, or IL-33 for short – appeared to improve memory and help clear and prevent brain deposits similar to those seen in people with Alzheimer’s.
Tentative human studies of the treatment will begin soon, but experts say it will take many years to know if it could help patients in real life
Experts at the University of Glasgow hope that their discovery will pave the way for a weekly or monthly jab — much like an insulin injection — to treat the condition in people.
Glasgow professor Eddy Liew, who co-directed the research, said the relevance of the finding was unclear at present but “there are encouraging hints”.
He said: “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.”
Prof Liew said that patients may be able to self-administer injections of IL-33, as diabetics do with insulin, to first reverse the symptoms and then prevent them returning.
He said he expected the treatment would be most effective for patients in the relatively early stages of the disease “before the brain has disintegrated”.
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 mobilise immune cells in the brain to reduce the number and size of the deposits and inhibits inflammation of the brain tissue to restrict tangles from forming.
Dr Simon Ridley, Director of Research, Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia is a promising area of focus for drug discovery efforts.
“This early research in mice highlights a way of boosting the immune system to clear a toxic Alzheimer’s protein, but we’ll need to see the results of clinical trials before we’ll know whether this approach could one day help people living with the disease.”