By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have found a way to reverse memory loss in mice, a potential breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Even though there’s a long way to go, it’s an exciting development.

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“This has the potential to really make a difference,” says Jay Penney, PhD, one of the lead authors of a new study.

Jay Penney. (WBZ-TV)

The team focused on one enzyme that causes memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.

“What we’ve done is found a new way to basically prevent this negative effect of this enzyme,” he says.

They did that by turning off the enzyme. And in mice, that didn’t just stop the memory loss, it actually reversed it.

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“We seem to have been able to pinpoint its role in memory processes quite specifically,” said Penney.

Jay Penney does Alzheimer’s research at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. (WBZ-TV)

If it does the same thing for people with Alzheimer’s, the hope is to develop a drug to treat the disease.

“It’s definitely an exciting avenue that has now been opened by this,” Penney says.

It’s been known for some time that this enzyme triggers memory loss, but this is the first time scientists have been able to switch it off without causing other kinds of problems.

Even though testing on people is many years away, the stakes are very high.

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If treatments are not found, the disease and the damage it does will dramatically increase as the population ages.

Dr. Mallika Marshall