Scientists have discovered an inherent system in the brain that can help to protect cells when they are starved of oxygen and nutrients during a stroke.
Researchers from Oxford University first identified the biological process in rats and hope that future treatments will be able to harness it for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Professor Alastair Buchan, dean of the medical school at the university, said: "We have shown for the first time that the brain has mechanisms that it can use to protect itself and keep brain cells alive."
The team identified a protein called hamartin and showed that it is responsible for safeguarding cells starved of glucose and oxygen during a stroke. They discovered that stimulating the production of hamartin resulted in better protection for the neurons.
It is now thought a drug that could increase hamartin production would be effective in reducing damage caused by strokes. Although this is the main focus of their research, Prof Buchan suggested possible treatments could help patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's too.
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