BREAKTHROUGH; First Drug That Actually REVERSES Alzheimer's

Article excerpt

Byline: PAT HAGAN

A DRUG costing less than 10p a day could lead to a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, according to British researchers. The finding is being hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs medicine has seen in the fight against the devastating brain condition.

Lithium, already widely used as a treatment for severe depression, appears to reverse some of the damage caused by Alzheimer's, with the added advantage of being cheap to administer.

It is the first time scientists have succeeded in halting the effects of the illness. And laboratory experiments have been so successful that the Medical Research Council, Britain's top research funding body, has allocated [pounds sterling]200,000 for a groundbreaking study on Alzheimer's patients.

It's hoped the two-year investigation, led by experts at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, will help to halt the increase in a disease that is plaguing the UK's ageing population. 'This is our most exciting finding for years,' said the Institute's Professor Simon Lovestone, who took part in the experiments.

'We really hadn't expected to be able to reverse these changes in the brain and to do it so dramatically was remarkable.' Alzheimer's affects an estimated 750,000 people in the UK, robbing them of their memory and faculties.

Most sufferers die within ten years of being diagnosed, and the cost of caring for victims is more than stroke, heart disease and cancer put together.

Novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch died from the disease in 1999. Her story was later made into an emotionally moving film starring Dame Judi Dench.

The disease destroys chemical messengers within the brain and starts with the build up of deposits - called plaques and tangles - that can disrupt normal messaging systems by causing inflammation.

Tangles are made by a protein known as tau, which is vital for the brain to function normally, but can kill brain cells and lead to dementia when there is too much. EXPERIMENTS revealed that when tau comes into contact with an enzyme called GSK-3, it turns tau into tangles that cause highly-damaging Alzheimer's through a chemical process called phosphorylation. …