If there is one consistent thing in the race to unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s, it is change. It seems as if whenever researchers begin to get an understanding of a single piece, new data shifts their hypotheses in a new direction. That’s most certainly the case with the incredible new understanding in the progression of Alzheimer’s.
For the first time ever, researchers from the University of Cambridge have been in a position to study human data as opposed to animal models. Their research aims at an origin of the disease in multiple areas of the brain, rather than a single location that starts a chain reaction, as formerly surmised 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.”
Because of this, the progression of Alzheimer’s is more dependent upon how rapidly cells are destroyed in these various regions. This new information will surely be incredibly advantageous in the advancement of treatment plans that target the processes that occur at the outset of Alzheimer’s. Additional good news: the replication of the tau and amyloid beta proteins responsible for the disease takes place very gradually, and our neurons are already evolving to stop the aggregation of these proteins. Hopefully soon, biology and science can work together to aid the millions of people impacted by Alzheimer’s.
The next step will be for researchers to further explore the processes involved in the very first stages associated with the disease, while expanding research to other medical conditions, including progressive supranuclear palsy and traumatic brain injury. The information they discover could even help provide clues into more effective treatments for other common neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.
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