Brisbane scientists say they have discovered how the brain forms nerve cells associated with memory and learning, meaning the effects of dementia could be slowed or even reversed.
The work of professor Perry Bartlett, director of Queensland Brain Institute and Dr Tara Walker is featured on the front of the Journal of Neuroscience this week.
They have identified the resident stem cell of the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and learning, and how it can be made to produce new neurons.
It means researchers should be able to develop drugs to stimulate neuron production and reverse or prevent cognitive decline, as well as further their understanding of the brain and complex areas such as behaviour, cognition, neurological disease and mental illness.
"The hippocampus is the region of the brain involved in important brain functions such as learning and memory and loss of neuronal production in the hippocampus is associated with a range of neurodegenerative conditions, and is particularly evident in ageing dementia," Professor Bartlett said.
Alzheimer's Society says there are 700,000 people in the UK with dementia. The number is expected to rise to more than one million by 2025.
No cure is available, but delaying onset by five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives each year.