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Phages break up plaques

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10:25am, June 5, 2007

From Toronto, at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology

Phages, which are viruses that infect bacteria, cut through plaques in the brains of mice engineered to develop a disease similar to Alzheimer's. That action helped the rodents recover.

"Phages dissolve plaque," says Beka Solomon of Tel Aviv University in Israel. "We saw improvements in memory and smell tests" of the mice.

Solomon worked with a phage that infects Escherichia coli bacteria. It's long and thin and is naturally attracted to the flat proteins that form plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Scientists generally agree that these plaques cause the disease.

Solomon gave 100 of the mice monthly doses of the phage in a nose spray. The phages slipped into the brain via the olfactory bulb, which is where Alzheimer's-like plaques first appear in both people and mice. One of the first symptoms of the disease, in fact, is a loss of the sense of smell.

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