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Dye breakthrough in Alzheimer's research.

A PIONEERING breakthrough in a Midland laboratory could be a vital lead in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

And it's all thanks to a special dye...

Dr Nick Hartell, of Aston University in Birmingham, has created the first ever fluorescent dye which can be injected into living cells in the brain.

By watching what happens to the dye, scientists can learn more than ever before about the function of certain cells.

They can see what happens when the cells react to stimuli, such as learning and memory.

They can also learn how and why cells die - including those killed by Alzheimer's disease.

And once they know how the disease kills cells, they can work on stopping it.

Scientists expect the new technique to have ripple effects across all fields of medical research.

As well as Alzheimer's, the technique could give scientists enough information to forge ahead with similar cures for things like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and eye problems.

The potential could be never-ending.

It took Dr Hartell two years and a pounds 180,000 grant from the Bio-Technology and Biological Sciences Research Council to create the dye.

The dye is injected and then watched with the use of a powerful microscope and recorded with a digital video camera.

This allows scientists to watch the cells in slow motion.

The microscope is needed because each cell is only a millionth of a millimetre in diameter.

Dr Hartell, 33, of Selly Oak, said: "It is such a simple process but it has never been done before.

"Most cells in the body use chemicals known as cyclic nucleotides. These chemicals are used in things like learning, muscle contraction and cell death.

"The dye is made up of these cyclic nucleotides and so acts as fuel for the cells.

"If you think of the cells as a motor engine, the dye is the petrol. And once the petrol is injected into the engine, the engine starts to work.

"That's why the cells take up the dye and for the first time, we can watch the cells in action."

He stressed: "This is not a cure in itself but it should give us more information than we've ever had before.

"Hopefully it will provide scientists with enough to start work on cures for all sorts of things."
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 14, 1998
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