MELBOURNE, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- Australian scientists who collaborated with researchers from the United States have announced a breakthrough discovery to link the blue-green algae to the cause of the current non-cured fatal motor neuron disease (MND) , local media ABC News reported on Thursday.
The University of Technology Sydney (UTS), which provides the Australia's major research team, said this discovery could be one of the only known causes of motor neuron disease in a media release revealed yesterday.
The discovery promoted finding how a toxin in blue-green algae can contaminate food and cause problems in the central nervous system and hoped the link could help treat the condition.
Motor neuron disease is caused by degeneration of the nerves to lead to muscle weakness, initially in hands or feet. The patients would suffer from loss of speech, difficulty swallowing, muscle twitching, cramps, fatigue and weight loss.
The diseases kill motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, progressively paralyzing the body. Life expectancy after diagnosis is between one to five years.
According to the study report, more than 90 percent of MND cases still have no known cause and no method to cure.
Now the new finding could be able to help scientists stepping closer to understanding motor neuron disease, said the lead author of the research paper, UTS's Dr. Rachel Dunlop.
The research was inspired by Australia's leading ethno botanist Dr. Paul Cox, who also works in the UTS, to find out in Guam, where the indigenous population has between 50 to 100 times more motor neuron disease than the general population, said Dr. Dunlop.
Dr. Cox found that blue-green algae grew as part of the roots of trees there rather than growing just in water.
Blue-green algae, which contain cyanobacteria, most often associated with nutrient runoff in coastal waters to produce a neurotoxic amino acid called BMAA, which mimics an amino acid called serine that is used to make human proteins.
The research suggested that BMAA is mistakenly incorporated into human proteins instead of serine to cause damaged proteins and build up to toxic levels and kill the cells after a certain period.
"Then when it gets into your proteins it can prevent them from folding and functioning properly, and that can lead to toxicity," said Dr. Dunlop.
"The discovery that we found might help us to design a therapy to stop it getting in to people's proteins," she added.
She also said that the clinical trials have started using the research to help find a treatment for the condition, although they cannot make any predictions about the success in this very early stage.
The study was led by UTS' researcher Dr. Ken Rodgers, in collaboration with the Institute of EthnoMedicine in Wyoming from the United States. The research paper was published in today's Plos One, which is an international online science journals publication.