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Fresh hope for Alzheimer's cure

Fresh hope for Alzheimer's cure

STOCKHOLM -- A research project aimed at finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease, the commonest form of senile dementia, is being set up in Sweden. Under an agreement with a Japanese pharmaceuticals company, a team at the Karolinska Institute will try to advance beyond the drugs currently available that can only halt the development and reduce the symptoms of the disease.

"What we are hoping for is a drug to fend off and cure Alzheimer's," project leader Professor Bengt Winblad said.

Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals will pay $8.15 million (75 million Swedish crowns) over a five-year period to the Karolinska's Alzheimer's disease research centre at the Huddinge hospital, south of Stockholm.

First identified by German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906, the disease is a degenerative ailment which gradually robs the patient of memory.

Scientists are nearly unanimous in believing that it is caused when two enzymes clip off a particular protein, releasing small fragments which build up to cause amyloid plaque.

This in turn causes nerve tangles in the brain, depriving patients of their ability to think and remember.

'Most costly disease affecting society'

"The hope is that we will find new targets for drugs, how the amyloid is processed and how it develops," Winblad said.

"The agreement with Sumitomo means that we can recruit 15 to 20 top researchers from all over the world," he said.

"This is a tremendous contribution. We will have the same resources as U.S. research centres have access to, but we also have clinics, epidemiological research and clinical care as well as the basic research."

The Karolinska Institute, which is responsible for awarding the annual Nobel Prize for Medicine, won the Sumitomo contract in competition with laboratories in Britain and Germany.

Advances in other branches of medical science have pushed back the frontiers of age in western societies without reducing the incidence of senile dementia. About 150,000 people in Sweden alone suffer from Alzheimer's.

"It is the most costly disease affecting society," Winblad said. "Between five and 10 percent of all people over the age of 65 suffer from it, and many of them are in expensive institutional care."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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