Potential Alzheimer’s breakthrough by Hong Kong scientists restores memory of lab-mice

By injecting mice affected by dementia with a specific protein, the team from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology successfully restored the animals’ memories, potentially unlocking a treatment for humans in the future

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 11:56pm

Hong Kong researchers have made what could be a major breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, by successfully restoring the memory of the mice affected by dementia, by injecting them with a protein.

Announcing the result, professor Nancy Ip, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology University (HKUST), said it will require at least ten years to develop a human treatment from the protein, which they found can stop a harmful substance from damaging the patients’ brain.

Alzheimer’s disease, a major cause of dementia, affects around 80,000 Hongkongers and 9 million individuals in China..

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“Unlike existing treatments that can only deter and contain the deterioration of the conditions, this is the first breakthrough that addresses the root of the problem of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ip.

“The next step will be to translate the findings from the mouse study into clinical treatments for human. I would be very happy if it can happen in ten years.”

Alzheimer’s disease causes dementia, which progressively damages brain functions and leads to memory loss, cognition problems and physical difficulties. Patients with severe forms of the illness rely heavily on carers and could die as a result of the condition.
In Hong Kong, the Alzheimer’s Disease Association estimates that the costs associated with dementia amounted to HK$25.6 billion last year.

Around the globe, the number of Alzheimer’s sufferers is projected to rise from 46.8 million to 131.5 million by 2025 amid the trend of an ageing population, potentially having a catastrophic impact to the health care system around the globe.

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In a three-year study led by researchers in the local university in Sai Kung, laboratory tests proved the natural protein that affects immune function, known as IL-33, was effective in eliminating a harmful substance damaging the central nervous system of the brain.

The researchers then tested the effectiveness of the protein on hundreds of laboratory-bred mice that were genetically altered to suffer dementia-like symptoms.

The mice were then placed under a fear test inside a box that gave them electric shock if they moved around.

Those mice with no treatment kept walking around in the box as they had forgotten their actions would trigger electric shock.

But those injected with the protein would freeze on the spot - showing they remembered the fear of pain.

“The study showed that the injections of the proteins have restored the memory of these mice to a normal level,” said Ip. “Same doses were given to elder mice suffering more advanced conditions. The effect is proven to be the same.”

But the researchers have only observed the conditions of the mice for a week. It will require further study on the sustainability of the treatment, its side effects, and to determine the correct dose to treat different levels of seriousness of the disease, Ip said.

The study, carried out in collaboration with the University of Glasgow in the UK and Zhejian University in China, has been published in scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Chinese University’s professor Timony Kwok Chi-yiu, an expert in dementia, believed the research has offered a positive sign in treating Alzheimer’s.

“There is potential for this study to develop a cure,” Kwok said, but he stressed it would require a clinical study to determine its effect on humans, since there were some previous breakthroughs in animals that could not be translated into human patients.