A HORMONE present in the human body could be used to stop early stage Alzheimer’s disease in its tracks, scientists have announced.

Researchers at the University of Dundee have discovered that a small part of an appetite-suppressing hormone called leptin, which is present in everyone, can have dramatic effects on the brain, including stopping the development of Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages.

Their tests have shown that leptin can reduce the effects of two toxic proteins in the brain called amyloid and tau, which build up and lead to memory loss and development of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Professor Jenni Harvey, who is leading the research, said: “We’re working at the level of synapses which are the communication points in the brain because synapses are affected early in the disease process, when Alzheimer’s is still reversible.

“Our research shows that leptin could significantly slow, or even stop, the disease developing.

“We have found that applying leptin can block the ability of amyloid and tau to interfere with synapses and memory loss, and it can prevent the unwanted effects of these cellular changes.”

The researchers have discovered six amino acid fragments out of the 167 within the hormone which retain the ability to block negative effects of amyloid and tau in the brain, and so slow or stop the development of the disease.

This has enabled the scientists to design a potential drug template using these smaller fragments of leptin.

Prof Harvey said it could be a few years before any new leptin-based drugs become available.

She said: “Developing drugs is not a quick process, most drugs take around 10 years.

“Even when one has been developed there are a number of safety checks it has to go through before being issued to patients.”

There are currently 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia and that figure is predicted to rise to 1.6 million by 2050.