Scientists shed light on age-related illness

The effect of Alzheimers disease on the brain
Image caption The study will focus on why proteins in the body often clump together as people age

Edinburgh scientists are attempting to find the trigger which leads older people to develop dementia.

The University of Edinburgh study will focus on proteins found in the body to try to find out why they clump together as people get older.

The researchers said the clumps can affect the biological processes that enable the body to function healthily.

Clumping is a feature of age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

'Mis-shapen proteins'

Accumulations of protein cause the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease, and the cloudy vision caused by cataracts.

The researchers said understanding how the mis-shapen proteins bind to one another will help researchers pinpoint the triggers that cause the clumping, which in turn will help the design of drugs to prevent it occurring.

Scientists will focus on the protein insulin for the study but, because most proteins can adopt a shape that is prone to clumping, their results could apply to all proteins in the body.

Dr Cait MacPhee, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, who is leading the research, said: "We know that proteins often bunch together, causing processes in the body to break down.

"Because this problem is common to lots of diseases, we hope that if we can understand how it occurs, it will offer insights into a range of conditions that affect people as they get older."

The three-year project has been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance.

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