By Erik Derr ( | First Posted: May 25, 2013 09:37 PM EDT

(Photo : Reuters)

A new class of drugs has been discovered that not only treats but also prevents Alzheimer's disease in laboratory test mice, researchers at the University of Southern California have announced.

Christian Pike, lead researcher from the USC Davis School of Gerontology, said the pharmaceuticals, known as "TSPO ligands," are currently used for certain types of neuroimaging, basically making maps of the brain, according to a report by United Press International.

The team's findings, published online in the Journal of Neuroscience, found four treatments, administered once per week over four weeks in older mice, resulted in a notable decrease of Alzheimer's-related symptoms, as well as improvements in memory.

In other words, the study team found TSPO ligands may actually reverse some elements of Alzheimer's disease.

"We looked at the effects of TSPO ligand in young adult mice when pathology was at an early stage and in aged mice when pathology was quite severe," Pike said in a statement. "TSPO ligand reduced measures of pathology and improved behavior at both ages."

Pike and his co-authors, which included USC postdoctoral scientists Anna M. Barron, Anusha Jayaraman and Joo-Won Lee, as well as Donatella Caruso and Roberto C. Melcangi of the University of Milan and Luis M. Garcia-Segura from the Instituto Cajal in Spain, said their findings were very encouraging in the ongoing search for ways to fight Alzheimer's, which, in 2006, affected an estimated 26.6 million sufferers worldwide and is expected to strike one out of every 85 people globally by 2050.

Named after German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, who first described the condition in 1906, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.

So far, there's been no cure found for the debilitating disease, which worsens as it progresses and eventually leads to death.

Said Pike of the new research: "It's just mouse data, but extremely encouraging mouse data...There is a strong possibility that TSPO ligands similar to the ones used in our study could be evaluated for therapeutic efficacy in Alzheimer's patients within the next few years."

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