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Updated: March 23, 2011 03:01 IST

Scientists claim breakthrough in Alzheimer’s treatment

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A team at Oxford University says the breakthrough may pave the way for a new generation of treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy. File photo
The Hindu A team at Oxford University says the breakthrough may pave the way for a new generation of treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy. File photo

British scientists claim to have overcome a key problem in treating dementia and motor neurone disease, by discovering a novel way to get medicines into the brain to treat the common memory disorders.

A team at Oxford University says the breakthrough may pave the way for a new generation of treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy, Nature Biotechnology journal reported.

Until now, it has been very difficult to get drugs into the brain because of an efficient filter known as blood- brain barrier. One of the only ways has been to inject drugs directly into the brain.

But, now the British scientists have discovered how to hide medicines from this filter by attaching them to tiny molecules, released by cells, called exosomes. They can send drugs into brain to switch off a gene linked to Alzheimer’s.

However they believe it may be a few more years before the technique is safe enough to test on humans.

Dr. Matthew Wood, who led the study, was quoted by the Daily Express as saying, “These are dramatic and exciting results. It’s the first time new biological medicines have been delivered effectively across the blood-brain barrier to the brain.”

Exosomes are small capsules that are produced by most cells in the body. They can break away from the cell and travel around the body, taking genetic material with them.

They help cells to “talk” to each other.

Dr. Wood added: “We’ve shown that a natural system could be exploited to deliver drugs. We believe we can use this same technology for Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

“The next steps are to test the exosomes in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease to see if it makes a difference to disease progression.”

The trial showed that when the drug was attached to exosomes and injected into the blood system of mice, it crossed the blood-brain barrier and ended up in the brain.

Once there, the type of drug delivered was able to switch off a gene linked to Alzheimer’s. This led to a 60 per cent drop in the brain of the problem enzyme linked to the gene, the findings revealed.

The Alzheimer’s Society has hailed the discovery.

“The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from harmful chemicals but also makes it difficult for drugs to reach the target cells. If this delivery method proves safe in humans we may see more effective drugs being made available for people with Alzheimer’s in the future. More research is now needed,” a spokesman said.

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