Researchers have found that Alzheimer's could be prevented or slowed down by ensuring that a protein in the brain receives its normal sugar levels.
Experts from Simon Fraser University and Canada Research Chair in Chemical Glycobiology have published a paper in Nature Chemical Biology titled Increasing O-GlcNAc slows neurodegeneration and stabilizes tau against aggregation.
Led by David Vocadlo, the team found that by using an inhibitor they were able to chemically create Thiamet-G to stop the naturally occurring enzyme O-GlNAcase from reducing the protein Tau of sugar molecules.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition which causes minor memory problems and difficulty when coming to say the right words, thus leading to confusion and a change in behaviour.
Most common in those over 65, Alzheimer's affects one-in-14 people above this age, with the risk increasing the older a person is.
"The general thinking in science is that Tau stabilises structures in the brain called microtubules. They are kind of like highways inside cells that allow cells to move things around," said Mr Vocadlo.
"This work shows targeting the enzyme O-GlcNAcase with inhibitors is a new potential approach to treating Alzheimer’s. This is vital since to date there are no treatments to slow its progression," he noted.
Mr Vocadlo went on to say that "a lot of effort is needed to tackle this disease", and he encouraged that different approaches are taken in order to maximise the chances of fighting it.
"In the short term, we need to develop better inhibitors of the enzyme and test them… Once we have better inhibitors, they can be clinically tested," he advised.
A form of dementia, Alzheimer's attacks nerves and cells which carry messages to and from the brain.
Around 570,000 people in England are affected by dementia, with Alzheimer's being responsible for around 60 per cent of these cases.