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Alzheimer’s Breakthrough?

By Shlomo Maital

Alzheimer plaque

   Alzheimer’s Disease causes some 70 per cent of all dementia. In terms of the numbers who suffer from it, the WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that in absolute numbers 26.6 million, with a huge range of 11.4–59.4 million,   were afflicted by AD, in the world,   and, most significant,   the prevalence rate would triple and the absolute number would quadruple by 2050.  So it would not be an exaggeration to call Alzheimer’s an epidemic.

     According to Lisa Desjardins, PBS News Hour: More than five million Americans live with the degenerative brain disease that robs people of their memory. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S     Yet Alzheimer’s research is seriously underfunded. America’s National Cancer Institutes alone get some $5 billion a year. On pure economic grounds, a small fraction of that sum could be better invested in the causes of dementia. Few people today have been untouched by it.

     New research led by Harvard scientists brings hope that the cause of Alzheimer’s, still unknown, will soon be unraveled:

     “….a study led by Harvard University researchers and published this week in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” suggests that Alzheimer’s could stem from the brain’s past attempts to fight off infections.”

   According to Rob Moir, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital:   “Alzheimer’s disease and the neurodegeneration you see with it is thought to be caused by a little protein that forms this concrete like substance in your brain called amyloid. Amyloid, it turns out, is actually be an antimicrobial pit pod, that is to say it is a natural antibiotic that defends against infection in the brain, and if you get a virus or a bacteria that gets into the brain, it rises to do better with it and binds to it and then entraps it in these long fibers and eventually entombs it forever. And as they mount in number, eventually they start to be toxic to our own cells, and that leads to the neurodegeneration. So, that’s what I bet it does.”

     In short – Alzheimer’s is caused by amyloid plaque. Amyloid plaque in turn appears to be a result of the brain’s efforts to fight infection.  

     So what?   Notes Moir: “So if it does turn out to be an infection, there is a possibility of treating people before they get AD with vaccines, to target those particular bugs so that the pathogens don’t get a chance to infect the brain.”

     Let’s follow this research closely.   One day those 50 and over may get a vaccine, like those given to children, that protect their brains. As a senior citizen, few things scare me – but the idea that my brain may one day become scrambled is a major fear. The new Harvard research offers us hope.      

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Can Down’s Syndrome Help Cure Alzheimer’s?

By Shlomo  Maital   

Down's

About eight years ago, the BBC reported this: 

   Scientists believe they have found a possible cause for mental impairment in Down’s syndrome.   They have identified a gene that, if over-produced, can cause some brain cells to stop working properly. The next step, say the US researchers in journal Neuron, is to find the mechanism for the process.  This, they say, could ultimately lead to finding a way to “turn down” the gene expression so mental decline might be stopped or even reversed.   People with Down’s syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21, instead of the normal two – this is called trisomy 21.  ….Many people with Down’s syndrome go on to develop dementia, similar to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, by the age of 40.   In both Down’s syndrome and this form of Alzheimer’s, brain cells, or neurons, responsible for learning, memory and attention, wither and die.    Lead researcher Professor William Mobley, director of the Neuroscience Institute at Stanford University, said: “We’ve been interested in those neurons and why they get sick for some time.”

   Now, reports the BBC, in its excellent Science program,  Down’s syndrome persons are making major contributions to Alzheimer’s research.  Because Down’s syndrome individuals almost all develop the same type of ‘plaque’ dementia that afflicts Alzheimer’s sufferers, potential preventive drugs can be tested on Down’s syndrome persons well before they are 40, to see which drug actually works as a preventative, and whether such drugs really do prevent  the brain’s neurons from being gummed up by protein.

    It would be truly wonderful, if the Down’s syndrome persons willing to help scientists research Alzheimer’s  really do help find a drug that acts as a preventative.  Perhaps one day,  just as many of us take 75 mg. of aspirin daily as a stroke preventive,  we will take 75 mg. of a preventive drug daily– and the scourge of Alzheimer’s dementia will be defeated.     Once the protein plaque has taken hold, little can be done.  But clearly the direction for battling Alzheimer’s lies in preventing or forestalling it.   Let’s hope. 

     Thanks, Down’s people.  We love you.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
October 2017
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