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Scientists test sugar solution for Alzheimer's

By Erica Bulman, 24 Hours Vancouver

Slowing or preventing the development of Alzheimer's could be as simple as ensuring the sugar levels of a brain protein are maintained, according to a new study.

Scientists - including Simon Fraser University chemistry professor David Vocadlo - have used an inhibitor they chemically created to block a natural enzyme from depleting the protein Tau of essential sugar molecules.

"This is vital since to date there are no treatments to slow (Alzheimer's) progression," said Vocadlo, one of seven researchers whose findings were published in the Nature Chemical Biology journal.

Tau stabilizes structures in the brain called microtubules. Clumping of Tau occurs in the early stages of Alzheimer's. The more clumps, the more severe the disease.

Research has shown clumps of Tau from an Alzheimer's brain have almost none of this sugar attached to them, and the enzyme O-GlcNAcase is robbing them of it.

Scott Yuzwa and Xiaoyang Shan, grad students in Vocadlo's lab, found the inhibitor Thiamet-G stopped O-GlcNAcase from removing sugars off the Tau protein in mice that drank a daily dose of the inhibitor. The mice had fewer clumps and healthier brains.

"We need to develop better inhibitors of the enzyme and test them in mice. Once we have better inhibitors, they can be clinically tested," he said.