In these disorders, normally soluble proteins fold abnormally and are laid down as insoluble fibrils that damage tissue.
A second protein, called serum amyloid P component (SAP), binds fibrils and makes them particularly resistant to breakdown by the body.
Mark Pepys, of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, England, and colleagues have identified a compound that prevents SAP binding.
The compound blocks SAP's attachment site and accelerates SAP degradation by the liver.
Amyloid deposits in animal models were reduced by administration of the drug.
| The drug prevents SAP binding.
Initial studies have already been carried out on patients suffering systemic amyloidosis, a rare condition in which widespread amyloid deposits are ultimately fatal.
The drug drained the stabilizing protein from amyloid clumps.
"It's doing an incredible vanishing trick," says Pepys.
Professor Pepys is shortly embarking on clinical trials for Alzheimer's sufferers.
"This new approach offers great promise," comments Leslie Iversen of the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases, King's College, London in an associated News and Views article.