Researchers have been able to reverse memory loss in mice with Alzheimer’s disease and say it could offer hope of a treatment for humans.

Professor Lars Ittner and Dr Arne Ittner.

Brothers Lares and Arne Ittner, from the Macquarie University Dementia Research Centre, have been researching a gene therapy targeting a memory enzyme in the brain known as p38gamma.

They discovered that when activated, it can prevent the development of symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Restoring memory

In a study published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, they report that the therapy can improve or restore memory in mice that have been genetically engineered to have advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Ittner said his research began with the discovery of P38, which is lost during Alzheimer’s disease, about ten years ago.

“Over the years we developed our gene therapy to actually reconstitute the activity of (this enzyme) in the brain,” he told Community Care Review.

In the study the mice were injected with a vector carrying genetic material capable of bringing p38 levels back up.

The mice were then tested on their ability to find their way out of a series of mazes.

“When we set out to develop this gene therapy we expected it to halt progression of dementia, but we were not expecting to see that it not only halts it, it completely reverted the memory loss that was already there when we started therapy,” Professor Ittner said.

No adverse effects were observed during the study.

He says the findings suggest that the gene therapy could be affective in other forms of dementia, including frontotemporal dementia which presents in age patients aged in their 40s and 50s.

While the research is only in mice so far, the brothers hope to extend their work to humans.

In the case of humans, the treatment would probably involve a single injection into the fluid around the brain, similar to a lumbar puncture, Professor Ittner says.

Dr Arne Ittner says the work delivers a very powerful piece in the puzzle of what happens to molecules in the brain in dementia.

“This provides hope, as there is a lot of therapy out there focussed on prevention, but not much for those already affected by the disease,” he said in a statement.

The university is currently preparing for human trials.

If human studies are successful a therapy could be available within ten years, the brothers say.

Professor Ittner is confident that there will one day be a treatment for dementia.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this,” he says.

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