By Alexandra Thompson Senior Health Reporter For Mailonline
Published: 12:12 BST, 21 August 2019 | Updated: 12:13 BST, 21 August 2019
Scientists claim to have discovered a way to stop the build-up of a toxic protein in the brain that is considered to be a tell-tale sign of Alzheimer's.
Amyloid β protein has repeatedly been found to clog the brains of patients with the memory-robbing disorder, poisoning and killing crucial cells.
Researchers removed immune cells called microglia from the brains of mice with signs of Alzheimer’s – studies have shown the cells ‘turn on’ genes for the disease.
Once the microglia were removed, the mice did not develop the hallmark amyloid β plaques. The team described the results of their study as ‘striking’.
The researchers at the University of California, Irvine, hope their study will lead to new treatments that 'affect microglia in targeted ways'.
Scientists blocked the action of cells called microglia, which are found in the central nervous system. When microglia were present (red), they 'attacked' harmful amyloid β plaques (green), which are a tell-tale sign of Alzheimer's. This process 'switches off' genes in nerve cells that are required for normal brain functioning, which may trigger Alzheimer's
Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK, of which 62 per cent have Alzheimer's, the most common form of the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Society.
And in the US, 5.8 million people live with Alzheimer's, which is set to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050, Alzheimer's Association statistics show.
Microglia cells are found throughout the brain and spinal cord.
They are thought to be the first line of defence against infections in the central nervous system and 'swallow' invading pathogens.
'However, we hadn't understood exactly what the microglia are doing and whether they are significant in the initial Alzheimer's process,' lead author Dr Kim Green said.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.
The majority of people with Alzheimer's are age 65 and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
It is unknown what causes Alzheimer's.