What are the primary areas of Alzheimer’s research?
Scientific research about Alzheimer’s can be broadly categorized into five general areas:
- Research about possible causes, which includes the identification of risk factors for Alzheimer’s and the clarification of the underlying biological processes associated with the disease; major breakthrough in Alzheimer research.
- Research aimed at improving early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, including the identification of cognitive and biological “markers” (or tell-tale signs) for the disease and the use of brain-imaging techniques to identify brain changes even before symptoms are present;
- Research to develop new treatments, including medications that target the underlying biological changes (or pathology) in the brain, and non pharmacological approaches to managing behavioral symptoms;
- Research focused on prevention, which includes understanding whether certain drugs or lifestyle factors may exert a protective effect against Alzheimer’s;
- Research about caregiving, including what types of educational programs are most effective and what types of support are most useful.
-Courtesy: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research Foundation
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research laboratory scientists have published a new finding that is being hailed as a potential paradigm shift in how researchers around the world will fight Alzheimer’s disease. They have discovered a protein that is centrally involved in creating beta-amyloid. An over abundance of beta-amyloid kills brain cells and creates the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disorder for which there are no satisfactory treatments. Our findings reveal that gamma-secretase activating protein is a potential target for a new class of anti-amyloid therapies,” says Dr. Greengard.
Researchers at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research laboratory, Drs. Gen He (lead author) and Paul Greengard have discovered a protein that stimulates the production of beta-amyloid, and therefore represents a major new advance in Alzheimer’s disease research.
The protein, called gamma secretase activating protein (gSAP), is expected to become a major target for anti-amyloid drugs that inhibit the brain’s ability to produce toxic beta-amyloid in Alzheimer’s disease. Beta-amyloid is a substance found in the brain that becomes toxic in Alzheimer’s disease and is responsible for most of the devastating symptoms of the disease.
-Courtesy: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research Foundation
Paying Attention to Blood Vessel Health in Alzheimer’s Disease
People with Alzheimer’s disease often have problems with blood vessels in the brain that may be making symptoms worse, a new study reports. The findings may help to explain why measures that can improve blood vessel health in midlife — like eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise and keeping cholesterol levels in check —may help to curb Alzheimer’s in old age.
While strokes and blood vessel disease are commonly recognized causes of dementia other than Alzheimer’s, the study provides additional evidence that blood vessel disease likely plays an important role in many cases of Alzheimer’s as well. People who have signs of both Alzheimer’s and blood vessel or vascular disease are sometimes referred to as having “mixed” dementia.
The findings, published in the journal Brain, come from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who looked at vascular health across a wide range of brain ailments. They found that limited blood flow to the brain played a role in many brain disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as ALS). But compared to these conditions, vascular disease was far more common among people with Alzheimer’s
Diabetes drug may someday repair Alzheimer’s damage
The diabetes drug metformin may spur the growth of new brain cells, which could have benefits for Alzheimer’s patients, a new Canadian study on mice suggests.
The study showed that metformin caused brain cells to divide, producing new cells.
The diabetes medication was intended to target a specific pathway in liver cells. In the new study, researchers found that the drug activated that same pathway in brain cells, prompting new cell growth, said study researcher Freda Miller, a stem cell biologist and molecular geneticist at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto.
The new cells that are produced could help to repair the effects of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The concept that new cell growth could repair the brain is also driving research into neural stem cells, she added.
The research on metformin’s effects on the brain is still in early stages, and the findings have yet to be shown in people.
Still, the researchers found that new brain cells grew in both living mice and in human brain cell cultures growing in lab dishes. They are now working to set up clinical trials, Miller said.
The researchers decided to test metformin’s effects on brain cells after it was found that the pathway targeted by the drug in liver cells was also operating in brain cells.
DDT Exposure May Raise Alzheimer’s Risk: Study
Exposure to the banned pesticide DDT appears to increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reveals.
Blood drawn from a small sample of Alzheimer’s patients contained nearly four times greater levels of a DDT byproduct than blood taken from a group of healthy people, researchers found.
Exposure to DDT appears to promote the development of amyloid beta plaques, which clog the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients and are suspected to be a cause of the disease, said study author Jason Richardson, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational medicine at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.
The pesticide also might further increase Alzheimer’s risk for people who already have a genetic predisposition toward developing the degenerative disease.
Alzheimer’s Precursors Evident in Brain at Early Age
Scientists studying Alzheimer’s disease are increasingly finding clues that the brain begins to deteriorate years before a person shows symptoms of dementia.
Now, research on a large extended family of 5,000 people in Colombia with a genetically driven form of Alzheimer’s has found evidence that the precursors of the disease begin even earlier than previously thought, and that this early brain deterioration occurs in more ways than has been documented before.
The studies, published this month in the journal Lancet Neurology, found that the brains of people destined to develop Alzheimer’s clearly show changes at least 20 years before they have any cognitive impairment. In the Colombian family, researchers saw these changes in people ages 18 to 26; on average, members of this family develop symptoms of mild cognitive impairment at 45 and of dementia at 53.
These brain changes occur earlier than the first signs of plaques made from a protein called beta amyloid or a-beta, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Researchers detected higher-than-normal levels of amyloid in the spinal fluid of these young adults. They found suggestions that memory-encoding parts of the brain were already working harder than in normal brains. And they identified indications that brain areas known to be affected by Alzheimer’s may be smaller than in those who do not have the Alzheimer’s gene.
Courtesy: The New York Times