A new study released on January 2, 2015, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests that preventative medicine or even a cure for Alzheimer's Disease could be on the horizon.
Alzheimer's Disease develops when a protein called amyloid-beta builds up into clusters (sometimes refered to as 'plaque') that eventually begins breaking neural connections, causing nerve cells to die. In healthy, younger people, this doesn't happen because special fighter cells, called 'microglia,' continuously clear the brain of bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Once a microglia cell intercepts a destructive cell, it signals other microglia to join it and attack the invading cells.
Microglia cells also play a vital role in clearing dead cells, removing waste from the brain, and keeping neural pathways clear. These housekeeping cells make up as much as 10-15% of our brain cells.
However, as our brains age, a single protein, called EP2, diminishes the effectiveness of the microglia, allowing amyloid-beta to creep in and develop destructive clusters.
The scientists discovered that in young mice, the microglia kept the sticky plaques under control. But when experiments were done on older mice, the protein EP2 swung into action and stopped the microglia producing enzymes which digested the plaques.
Researchers created a drug, which when administered to mice with Alzheimer's-like symptoms, blocked EP2 from forming and reversed the symptoms such as memory loss. Microglia began to work properly again, clearing the brain of the build-up.
“Our experiments show that keeping them on the right track counters memory loss and preserves healthy brain physiology,” said Dr Katrin Andreasson, Professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, and one of the researchers in the study. “The microglia are supposed to be, from the get-go, constantly clearing amyloid-beta, as well as keeping a lid on inflammation. If they lose their ability to function, things get out of control. A-beta builds up in the brain, inducing toxic inflammation.”
Researchers are now working to create a drug that only blocks EP2, preventing unnecessary side-effects. However, this treatment is likely still many years down the road. You can read the whole study here.
In the meantime, there are many things we can do the prevent the development of Alzheimer's Disease and to slow down its effects. Learning a new language, listening to your favorite music, and using aromatherapy are all constructive ways to treat and prevent Alzheimer's onset.
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, download our free ebook below for more information about it, caregiving tips, and important considerations for your future.