Alzheimer’s Disease Research :The Science behind the Disease shows significant increase in the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This has led to Alzheimer’s disease research emerging at the forefront of cutting-edge exploration into the mysteries of the human brain. Scientists have identified distinct features separating Alzheimer’s from other cognitive disorders and now have a positive idea about why people suffer dementia symptoms related to Alzheimer’s.
Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s consistently exhibit the following hallmarks:
- Neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques impair brain functioning by saturating the brain with beta-amyloid peptide proteins and microscopic protein strands consisting of “tau” proteins. Tau proteins are responsible for microtubule stabilization, a vital component in maintaining normal cognitive functioning
- Brain cells no longer have connections with each other–due to tangles and plaques, neurons are unable to communicate via synapses, resulting in severely impaired thought processes
- Brain tissues are, shrunken and inflamed. Ventricles containing cerebrospinal fluid enlarge, creating pressure against various parts of the brain.
- Alzheimer’s patients with plaques but no tangles have a slower rate of disease progression than those with tangles but no plaques. Individuals diagnosed with tangles often develop frontotemporal dementia.
With the help of extensive Alzheimer’s disease research performed by doctors, geneticists, neurologists and pathologists, methods of preventing, slowing and possibly even curing the disease one day in the future is entirely feasible within the next 25 years.
An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July, 2012 reports that for the first time, a detailed description of what the brain experiences as it deteriorates from Alzheimer’s disease was developed by scientists working at St. Louis, Missouri’s Washington University School of Medicine.
By studying people from families who were considered genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer’s, a set of pre-symptomatic dementia symptoms were commonly detected that may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s 20 to 30 years before loss of memory and other signs of dementia occurred. One of the earliest changes indicating a possible decline in cognition was an elevation of tau proteins in the spinal fluid found in a subject’s body.
In addition, new information showed that plaques are clearly visible in brain scans taken 15 years prior to a patient developing memory problems. Researchers plan to attempt to either block growth of plaques with medication or remove existing plaques to stop further advancement of dementia stages.
Other possible warning signs that someone may eventually suffer from Alzheimer’s involve a decrease in how much glucose is utilized by the brain and shrinkage of vital brain structures nearly 20 years before manifestation of dementia symptoms.
Dr. Laurie Ryan, Ph.D and program director of clinical trials performed at the National Institute on Aging states that these findings confirm what was long suspected–that Alzheimer’s disease actually begins eroding the brain decades before cognitive decline becomes apparent.
Alzheimer’s Disease Research Suggests New Treatment Based on Protein Structure
The June 1, 2012 issue of Science magazine recently stated that the molecular structure of proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease allows the protein to bind with cholesterol, a discovery possibly leading to the development of more effective medications. Professor of Biochemistry for the Center for Structural Biology Dr. Charles Sanders determined that the internal arrangement of the amyloid precursor protein might be vulnerable to any substances that reduce production of amyloid-beta, the primary cause of plaques.
Because people with high cholesterol are at risk for suffering from Alzheimer’s, scientists suspect that cholesterol helps bind amyloid proteins to eventually create plaques. Moreover, researchers think that if a drug could be created that prevents cholesterol from binding to amyloid precursor protein, certain enzymes could be allowed to cleave the protein and inhibit its generation of amyloid-beta.
Although some drugs similar to what scientists hope will one day prevent plaques from forming have been tested, many have serious side effects and cannot be made available to Alzheimer’s patients until further modifications have been successfully completed.
Cutting-Edge Alzheimer’s Disease Reseach Investigates Deep Brain Stimulation
According to the John Hopkins Medicine website, patients experiencing mild Alzheimer’s disease symptoms or the early stages of dementia may benefit from continuous transmission of electrical impulses supplied by device implanted into brain areas associated with memory. Increased neuronal activity occurs in people suffering from depression and Parkinson’s when this treatment is used on them, leading researchers to believe it may prove beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients.
Using Diabetes Drugs in Alzheimers Disease Research
A study published in the July issue of Cell Stem Cell, describes how the drug Metformin, normally used by diabetics to control blood glucose levels, seems to stimulate the formation of new neurons. Researchers see promise in applying Meformin to Alzheimer’s patients as a way to replenish neurons that have been devastated by tangles and plaques.
However, one problem with Metformin is the potential for users to develop lactic acidosis when taking the drug, especially if they suffer from kidney disease, liver disease, alcoholism, or have an infection about which they are unaware.
The future of Alzheimer’s disease research looks extremely promising, with new and improved medications and techniques being developed every year that continue to provide help for Alzheimer’s patients suffering from cognitive debilitation, loss of memory and disturbing behavioral changes.