A Cure for Alzheimer’s?!
By Shlomo Maital
I’ve been closely tracking research on Alzheimer’s, as researchers try to identify the cause, diagnose the illness earlier and above all, find a possible cure. The photograph above shows just how awful an illness it is, literally shrinking and damaging our brain, messing up neural connections with ugly protein tangles, and damaging our lives and those of our loved ones who care for sufferers. By one estimate, there will be 75 million sufferers in 2030 and 135 million in 2050. So, Alzheimer’s must become a top priority for medical research.
On Wednesday a major new breakthrough by Harvard researchers was published in the journal Nature. Here is how the Boston Globe described it:
“… scientists identified a protein called REST that flips genes on and off and naturally increases during aging. REST, they found, represses genes involved in Alzheimer’s disease, and its levels are reduced in key brain areas of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or the mild cognitive impairment that precedes dementia. In laboratory tests, REST protected brain cells from dying when exposed to a number of stresses, including the beta amyloid protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. … “What I love about this study, first and foremost, is it’s some good news for Alzheimer’s, and it connects that good news with an immediate therapeutic strategy,”Scripps Institute researcher Jeffrey Kelly said. “There aren’t a lot of steps between this” and the development of experimental drugs.”
The Harvard researchers took a new approach to Alzheimer’s, and found amazingly that there is a protein, created at birth, that can repress genes related to Alzheimer’s and other stresses. Alzheimer’s patients seem to have too little of it. The natural next step is to create a drug based on the REST protein.
I think there is an important, hidden point to be made here. Harvard Univ. has massive funds for research, flowing from its enormous endowment, and from other funding sources including those from industry. Modern research is very expensive. And availability of funds enables Harvard to attract and retain the very best research talent. There are still Nobel winners out there who succeed with little money and poor equipment. But that is becoming increasingly more difficult.