New research into the development of Alzheimer’s may improve future detection and treatment

Posted under Blog on July 13th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Two pieces of research published this week reveal a timeline for the development of Alzheimer’s and a protective gene that helps to prevent the disease in a small percentage of the population. The two papers are published in the scientific journals The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature.

Alzheimer’s timeline might help early treatment and diagnosis

Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine studied individuals with a genetic risk for early onset Alzheimer’s. They revealed that changes in the brain occur at least two decades before the onset of clinical symptoms, suggesting that current diagnoses are usually made at an advanced stage of the disease’s biological development.

  • 25 years before – the earliest changes show increased levels of the protein, amyloid beta which go on to produce plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients
  • 15 years before - some shrinkage of the brain was observed along with increased levels of a protein called tau, which causes tangles between nerve cells
  • 10 years before - the brain’s ability to metabolise glucose appeared to change with the appearance of slight memory problems

These results may have dramatic implications for the diagnosis and treatment of those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s at an early age.

“The ability to detect the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's would not only allow people to plan and access care and existing treatments far sooner, but would also enable new drugs to be trialled in the right people, at the right time," commented Dr Eric Karran, director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK.


Rare protective gene prevents Alzheimer’s

A few lucky people appear to carry a genetic mutation which prevents them from developing Alzheimer’s.

The mutation — the first ever found to protect against the disease — lies in a gene that produces amyloid precursor protein (APP), which has long been suspected to be at the heart of Alzheimer’s although its function is still largely unknown. This research does seem to point a finger at amyloid-β, the target for several therapies being investigated to see if they can slow the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. However, scientists say this doesn’t mean it’s the only factor.



Tags: AAIC, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, diagnosis, Early Alzheimer's, research, The New England Journal, treatment



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