The key to slowing, or even stopping, the progression of Alzheimer’s disease may lie in a naturally occurring protein produced by the brain, according to recent research.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is produced by the brain’s entorhinal cortex, which helps support memory. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found that production of BDNF is significantly decreased. By injecting the protein into aged animals and animals bred to exhibit Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, were able to stimulate the brain’s memory circuits and prevent cell death caused by disease or brain damage.

The effects of the protein were “potent,” researchers said. The animals that received the treatment soon began producing more BDNF on their own, and researchers noted improved memory function and other long-term benefits. The treatment was deemed safe and effective in animal models, leading researchers to believe the treatment works similarly in humans. Their research was published in the Feb. 8 issue of the journal Nature Medicine.