New Thinking on Alzheimer’s: Time for a Paradigm Shift?
By Shlomo Maital
Scientific breakthroughs come from iconoclastic researchers who are not afraid to smash consensus paradigms. Take, for instance, Prof. Michal Schwarz, of Israel’s Weizmann Institute. Here is what she told this week’s Haaretz (Hebrew) reporter:
The puzzle I pieced together is correct, and now I see the whole picture – how my research approach, for years against the consensus, has become one of the central focal points for research on all degenerative (neural) diseases.
The paradigm shift Schwarz has helped bring about is simple. Many researchers follow the “I dropped a coin” model – they look for it under the corner streetlight, instead of in dark corners, where it fell, because…. “that’s where the light is”. Alzheimer’s? Gooey proteins gumming up the brain and causing death? Look for cures that eliminate or prevent the protein directly, in the brain. Under the light.
But Schwarz? Let’s help the body’s own anti-immune system, outside the brain, fight those plaque accumulations that damage the brain. Last year the Daily Telegraph quoted Dr. Doug Brown, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher: “Repurposing drugs that already work for other conditions could provide us with a shortcut to new dementia treatments, and is a key aspect of our Drug Discovery programme.”
Here ‘s how the Daily Telegraph described Schwarz’s paradigm shift, in 2016: “The drugs, known as PD-1 blockers, effectively prevent the immune system from switching off, allowing a continuous cascade of soldier cells to fight disease and clear out damage in the body. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease sticky amyloid plaques build up which stop brain cells communicating with each other. But when mice, engineered to have Alzheimer’s symptoms, were given injections of the drug the amount of amyloid in their brains halved, and the animals were able to complete a maze task in the same time as control mice. Last year the first PD-1 blocker drug Keytruda was approved for use on the NHS by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence so it is already known to be a safe treatment.
“Lead author Prof Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, said that in Alzheimer’s a weakened immune system could be preventing the body from repairing itself. “We are extremely excited about our new study, we believe it is a game changer both conceptually and therapeutically,” she said.
Her research was published in the leading journal Nature Medicine.
Prof. Schwarz added: (in Hebrew): “In contrast to veteran old-time researchers, students have no history of believing dogma (existing paradigms)…they are fresh ears and eyes, without preconceptions. They were especially excited, with me, at our results, and joined my research and contributed to moving it forward, and some of them are continuing in my wake.”
As a (very) senior citizen, I have deep interest in breakthrough research on Alzheimer’s – half of those over 85 have it, at least early versions. Congratulations to Prof. Schwarz for becoming a woman scientist and for leading a paradigm shift that may help millions – including those in countries that despise Israel.