If there is one aspect that is constant in the race to unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s, it’s change. It seems as though any time scientists start to get a handle on a single piece, emerging information shifts their hypotheses in a new direction. That is most certainly the situation with the amazing new developments in Alzheimer’s research.
For the very first time ever, investigators from the University of Cambridge have been in a position to study human data as opposed to animal models. Their results point to an origin of the disease in several regions of the brain, rather than a single location that starts a chain reaction, as formerly understood from research studies of the brains of mice.
Dr. Georg Meisl of Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry explains, “The thinking had been that Alzheimer’s develops in a way that’s similar to many cancers: the aggregates form in one region and then spread through the brain. But instead, we found that when Alzheimer’s starts there are already aggregates in multiple regions of the brain, and so trying to stop the spread between regions will do little to slow the disease.”
As a result, the disease’s progression is dependent upon how fast cells are wiped out in these various regions. This new understanding is likely to be very helpful in the advancement of treatment options that focus on the processes that occur at the outset of Alzheimer’s. Additional good news: the replication of the tau and amyloid beta proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s happens slowly, and our neurons are already evolving to stop the aggregation of these proteins. Hopefully soon, science and biology will work in tandem to help the millions of individuals impacted by Alzheimer’s.
The next phase will likely be for researchers to further explore the processes involved in the very first stages associated with the disease, while extending research to other conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and traumatic brain injury. The information accumulated may possibly help shed light onto better treatments for a number of other common neurodegenerative diseases as well, such as Parkinson’s disease.
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