A yellow dye known as Thioflavin T, which is usually used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, could actually prevent one of the characteristics of the disease and prolong life, research has suggested.
Researchers at the Buck Institute on Aging in California found that worms lived 30 to 70 per cent longer than average when exposed to the dye.
It is believed that Thioflavin T helps to protect the environment needed for proteins to form three-dimensional structures. This could prevent the misfolding seen in protein clumps in Alzheimer's disease.
According to the New Scientist, researcher Gordon Lithgow said: "People have been using these compounds for assays, but now we are showing they are also powerful biological agents.
"We need to start thinking about compounds that target aggregation processes and protein misfolding pathways."
Meanwhile, a study published in the Annals of Neurology has said that amyloid plaques appear in the brain years before the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms.
Brain imaging techniques could be used to identify which individuals would benefit from early Alzheimer's therapies.