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Japan scientists find possible Alzheimer's cure

TOKYO, Japan -- Japanese scientists say they have discovered a substance that offers the best hope yet of a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's, which causes dementia in patients and is always fatal, is one of the most disturbing disorders among the elderly, with one million patients in Japan and another four million in the United States.

Ikuo Nishimoto, a professor of pharmacology and neurosciences at Keio University in Tokyo, said on Tuesday his team has discovered a protein, which they have named humanin, that can stop the death of brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer's patients.

But he also added that years of testing would be needed to determine whether humanin, produced naturally by genes in the rear part of the brain, can actually be used as a cure.

Stops brain cell death

"The difference between what we have discovered and what is currently used for treatment is that this completely stops the death of brain cells," Nishimoto told Reuters in an interview.

"This is the first step in completely curing Alzheimer's disease."

The discovery will be announced in a U.S. science academy bulletin, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America," to be released later on Tuesday.

Nishimoto said his team, which has only conducted experiments in test tubes so far, will start testing the substance in animals, and added that Keio University was currently applying for a patent for humanin.

Alzheimer's disease has been in the spotlight recently, after U.S. federal prosecutors charged a Japanese scientist with stealing genetic material related to the disease and handing it over to a Japanese government-funded research institute.

More tests needed

Nishimoto said that further testing will be needed to determine whether humanin can actually cure Alzheimer's.

"Whether this can be used as a cure or not will depend on the results of testing," he said, adding this process could take as long as 15 years.

But Nishimoto said humanin has so far met all the conditions required as the cure for the disease.

"Humanin has so far met the various required conditions. For example, when you stop deaths of brain cells, it usually causes cancer. But humanin does not have such side effects," he said.

Japan has positioned itself as one of the leading nations in Alzheimer's research and many of its pharmaceutical companies have launched major marketing campaigns for medications aimed at slowing the early effects of the disease.

Reuters contributed to this report.

• WebMD: Alzheimer's Disease
• The Alzheimer's Association
• Emory University's Alzheimer's Disease Center
• Alzheimer's Disease

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