- One in three people over the age of 80 is living with Alzheimer’s.
- There is currently no cure or treatment to slow the progression of the disease.
- However, new data suggests that a more comprehensive treatment plan may be the answer.
Lisa Genova, a novelist, Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, and author of Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting“If we’re lucky enough to live long enough, Alzheimer’s appears to be the destiny of our brains,” he said in a TED Talk.
Although clinical information to confirm the presence of Alzheimer’s is improving, no treatment has been effective in slowing its progression.
“Despite decades of research, we still have no disease-modifying treatments and no cure,” Genova said.
A recent study that appears in
Brain cells, or neurons, contain a special protein called tau, which is responsible for transporting nutrients and other substances from one part of the neuron to another. Researchers have identified tau dysfunction in several human brain neurodegenerative diseases.
Degeneration begins in one place within the brain and spreads from cell to cell, spreading throughout the brain and causing
As pathogenic tau spreads from cell to cell, it causes a trap
Professor Anne Robinson, a co-author of the study and head of Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Chemical Engineering, noted that several Alzheimer’s models have tried to explain how distorted tau spreads from one part of the brain to another.
The conflicting data seem to have resulted from previous work toward Alzheimer’s therapeutics. Much of this research has approached the problem from the point of view of cells taking up specific tau proteins, which is how they take up denatured tau.
This approach looks for an enzyme or protein that is specifically responsible for the uptake of denatured tau. If researchers can isolate this enzyme or protein, a single therapeutic technique could turn off the uptake, such as turning off a light switch.
Although this argument has been successful for some other diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes, there is evidence that Prof. Robinson’s team of researchers has challenged the current ideology.
“Evan Wells and Danny Osid” [co-authors of the study] decided to examine the behavior of monomeric tau as a control to compare the behavior of pathogenic states of tau,” explained Prof. Robinson in an interview. MNT,
“They decided to work on this together, which led to surprising results that even normal tau was readily absorbed by brain cells.”
,[T]There are actually several routes for tau to enter the cells. While pathogenic tau can be taken up slightly faster than normal tau, neurons and other cells in the brain acquire both forms relatively quickly (within minutes),” explains Prof. Robinson.
“This means that a more nuanced treatment approach will have to be taken, to keep neurons passing through healthy tau instead of deformed tau.”
So, the most effective treatment for people with Alzheimer’s may involve a mixture of drugs to address the different elements of the disease.
“Based on our findings, Alzheimer’s requires an approach similar to HIV treatment, where you have a cocktail of drugs used to address different elements of the disease. Together, these drugs work toward a larger goal. Works: to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in a particular patient.”
– Pro. Robinson
While this new data gives scientists a clearer picture of how Alzheimer’s forms and spreads within the brain, Prof. Robinson said further research about tau is necessary.
Pro. “The next step is to study tau uptake and cellular pathways with isolated tau in brain slices from animal models or from different brain samples such as healthy brain versus diseased brain,” Robinson said.
“We think that uncovering different avenues will be of great importance in understanding how to prevent further disease progression in Alzheimer’s and related diseases.”