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Scientists in Alzheimer's breakthrough

4th August 2005

Scientists in Australia have raised hopes of developing an effective drug to cure Alzheimer's after identifying a toxin which plays a key role in the evolution of the degenerative brain disease.

The discovery that the toxin is related to the onset of Alzheimer's means it will be easier to develop a drug to slow down the disease, the scientists say.

The research team add that the toxin, known as quinolinic acid, kills nerve cells in the brain, leading to dysfunction and ultimate death.

"Quinolinic acid may not be the cause of Alzheimer's disease, but it plays a key role in its progression," Alzheimer's researcher Dr Karen Cullen said in a statement. "It's the smoking gun, if you like."

"While we won't be able to prevent people from getting Alzheimer's disease, we may eventually, with the use of drugs, be able to slow down the progression," she added, according to Reuters.

With the population getting steadily older, Alzheimer's is as relevant today as ever, with 16 million people sufferers predicted in the US alone by 2015.

Quinolinic acid is also found in other brain disorders, including Huntington's disease and schizophrenia.

The team comprised of scientists from Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, the University of Sydney and Japan's Hokkaido University.