Researchers at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation have discovered a protein that spurs the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Paul Greengard, Nobel Laureate and Director of the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research laboratory, and his team at The Rockefeller University have identified a protein called gamma-secretase activating protein (gSAP), which stimulates the production of beta-amyloid.

Beta-amyloid is a substance that becomes toxic in Alzheimer’s disease and is responsible for most of the symptoms of the disease, such as memory loss.

The researchers also discovered that an anti-cancer drug, Gleevec, targets gSAP and consequently lowers beta-amyloid levels in the brain.

Moreover, inhibiting the function of gSAP is not toxic to nervous cells, unlike other beta-amyloid inhibitor drugs which often produce severe toxic reactions.

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With this discovery, Greengard hopes to usher in a new era of development for Alzheimer’s drugs.

“Millions of people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and the treatment options are limited,” Greengard said. “Existing drugs may mask symptoms for a time but do nothing to stop the relentless downward progression of Alzheimer’s. What is needed are safe and effective medications that will halt the cause of the underlying disease. It is our hope that this gSAP protein will greatly add to the creation of safe and effective Alzheimer’s treatment.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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