Key toxin could provide for world's first treatment for Alzheimer's

Dr Karen Cullen at Sydney University’s Institute for Biomedical Research is part of a collaborative team which has identified a key component in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a finding which may produce the world’s first effective treatment to combat the debilitating effects of the disease.

The team’s findings were published this week in a paper entitled Indoleamine 2, 3 dioxygenase and quinolinic acid Immunoreactivity in Alzheimer’s disease hippocampus in the leading international journal Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology, following a collaboration between researchers at St Vincent’s Hospital, UNSW, Hokkaido University, Japan and the University of Sydney.

They found that the toxin, quinolinic acid plays a key role in the progression of Alzheimer’s. Reduction of the toxin, which kills nerve cells and can lead to brain dysfunction and death, could significantly slow down the progression of the disease in sufferers. At present there are around 200,000 Alzheimer’s sufferers in Australia alone, with figures set to rise with an ageing population to as many as 730,000 by 2050.

Quinolinic acid is apart of a biochemical pathway called the kynurenine pathway which is also found in disorders such as Huntington’s disease and schizophrenia. With several drugs that specifically target this pathway already in development the researchers predict that a treatment for Alzheimer’s could potential be on the market within five years.

Quinolinic acid may not be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but it plays a key role in its progression,’ said Dr Cullen. ‘It’s a smoking gun if you like.’

‘While we won’t be able to prevent people from getting Alzheimer’s disease, we may eventually, with the use of drugs, be able to slow down the progression.’

Medical student Claire Noonan from the University of Sydney was also a researcher on this project.

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