The power of sugar is being harnessed in a possible new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease which is receiving an $857,000 funding boost.

Wellington scientists are part of a team which, in a world first, have worked out how to make complex sugars prevent certain memory-loss proteins from forming in the brain.

Professor Peter Tyler and Doctors Olga Zubkova and Ralf Schworer from Victoria University’s Ferrier Research Institute, and Professor Jerry Turnbull at the University of Liverpool have been working together to research the complexities of the debilitating disease since 2008.

The sugars, called heparan sulfates, target the tiny villains of the brain: compounds called amyloids.

“Amyloids disrupt the normal function of cells, leading to the progressive memory loss that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease,” Tyler said.

“The molecules … have potential to slow or stop progression of the disease. No one else in the world is using this heparan sulfate approach.”

Every 60 seconds someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease, which causes an inability to retain new information and difficulty in recognising people and places.

Tyler’s aunt had early-onset Alzheimer’s, and others in the family had been affected by the disease.

“It affects everyone somehow. It’s a burning need and there’s no effective treatment now,” Tyler said.

“We also designed a more simplified core for the molecules by replacing sugar fragments with smaller and cheaper carbon versions. The new products will be easier to make, and allow us to prepare larger amounts for testing,” Zubkova said.

Even if it all goes to plan, it’s too early to say when the potential new treatment might be available. Tyler expects the remainder of the preclinical tests to take two years, and if successful, the end product can be launched in clinical trials.

Early stages of the research were funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

This latest funding has come from a mixture of KiwiNet – a consortium of public research organisations, the UK Alzheimer’s Society, and the NZ Federation of Women’s Institutes.