Major Accomplishments of KIST Over Its 40-Year History. Since its foundation over 40 years ago, KIST has remained faithful to its role as a comprehensive research institute supporting Korea's interests and has made active contributions to the growth of the nation's industrial base through advancements in science and technology. A review of its major accomplishments through the years offer a peek into the most significant events in its history.

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Project Name Taurine found effective against Alzheimer's
Year 2015 Director Dr. Kim, Young Soo
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Taurine found effective against Alzheimer's


As society ages, the number of Alzheimer's patients is rising. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia occurrences, yet there is no fundamental cure for the disease. Patients of the disease suffer worsening of symptoms and eventually die. A group of researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) made an announcement that taurine, a chemical found in high concentrations in squid, shrimps and oysters, could be effective in treating Alzheimer's disease. Taurine is known as an anti-oxidant, and is effective in helping to recover from fatigue and in stabilizing the blood pressure

Due to disappointing failures of disease-modifying drugs in clinical trials, we have not seen new drugs to treat AD for the past decade since the clinical approval of Memantine. In light of the issue, the focus of drug development has shifted towards testing therapies in early-stage patients who have underlying brain pathology but little to no functional impairment. Consequently, the US Food and Drug Administration released a striking new guidance suggesting accelerated regulatory pathways for drugs that improve cognitive deficits alone in the early stages of AD. Although the new regulation provides flexibility for mechanisms of drugs, the selection criteria of patients for clinical trials are strongly restricted. US FDA requires these cognitive enhancers to be assessed in patients of early cognitive impairment paired productively with appropriate biomarkers of AD, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. 

The scientists at KIST proposed a curative and orally safe substance, taurine, which might well fit into aforementioned standards. Oral treatment of taurine recovered the spatial working memory and hippocampal-dependent memory in the demented transgenic mouse expressing human amyloid plaques. In addition to the cognitive benefits, taurine also decreased levels of guanidine-extractable amyloid-β aggregates in the cortex. Unlike acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, therapeutic effects of taurine are dementia-specific, which may have great clinical impacts.

Taurine is currently being used clinically as a drug for congestive heart failure and liver disease. There have not been any reports of adverse side-effects aside from mild dizziness. Taurine is also commonly found in a wide variety of food and drinks such as Red Bull, due to its role in central nervous system development. Considering the orally safe and water-soluble properties of taurine, it is a promising therapeutic drug candidate for effectively and conveniently treating the elderly AD patients.

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Cognitive ability tests show that Alzheimer's transgenic mice fed with taurine recovered their learning and memory ability, back to normal levels. 

In Korea, taurine is easily accessible. The white powder stuck on the surface of dried squid which is a popular food ingredient in Korea is taurine. It is a well-known fact that the webfoot octopus or squid is good for brain functions due to the presence of taurine. Taurine is also found in high concentrations in oysters. One hundred grams of oysters have up to 1,130 milligrams of taurine. 

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The photograph of a hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory, shows that the neurogliocytes are very active in the brain of a normal mouse (left) and in that of a taurine-fed mouse with Alzheimer's disease. 

The KIST researchers intend to transform the chemical structure of taurine to synthesize a new, better medicine that can treat Alzheimer's in humans fundamentally. 

The research was a part of flagship project at the KIST's Brain Science Institute, and also a part of internship program between MIT in Boston, MA, USA and the University of Science & Technology in Korea. The results were published on December 13, 2014 in Scientific Reports under the title, "Taurine in drinking water recovers learning and memory in the adult APP/PS1 mouse model of Alzheimer's disease." 

"By taking advantage of taurine, which is found effective in treating Alzheimer's, we will be able to develop a new medicine that is effective and friendly to the human body and which has no negative side effects," said a KIST researcher. 

"Using the research results, we will find the pathological causes of Alzheimer's disease, and make efforts to research and develop a fundamental cure for it."


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