New studies reveal knowledge about the path Alzheimer’s disease may follow

  • Recent news that the path Alzheimer’s disease travels in the brain may finally have been nailed down has created a lot of excitement. Researchers believe this discovery may lead to a new direction in developing a way to prevent or cure the disease. A New York Times article reports on two independent studies, both of which concluded that Alzheimer’s disease seems to spread like a viral or bacterial infection by a “distorted protein known as Tau. These studies were done on mice.

    According to the article, the finding “… answers a longstanding question and has immediate implications for developing treatments.”

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    Alzheimer’s researchers have long known that the disease slowly spreads throughout the brain into areas that involve memory and reasoning. Two theories for this belief have been given a lot of attention. One is that the spread could mean that the disease may be transmitted from neuron to neuron along the paths that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. The other theory has been that some brain areas are more resilient than others, therefore they resist the attack longer.

    If more studies prove that Tau is the slowly spreading culprit, scientists feel they may be able to develop an antibody to block the spread of the protein. The studies were done independently by researchers at Columbia and Harvard Universities.

    How does this help us now?

    Most of the readers on HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s site either have loved ones already diagnosed with AD, or are people who are worried that they, or a loved one, may be developing the disease. Will the new research help these readers? Unfortunately, a vaccine or other means to stop the spread of Tau in the brain will be years in coming. So why would the average reader be interested in the study?

    Ask those who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s. The brutal reality of watching the progressive loss of a parent’s ability to remember the names of their family members and lose the ability to reason and make sound decisions doesn’t go away.

    Many people work hard to raise awareness and funding for research long after their loved one’s death. They do it in memory of their loved one, and they do it for future generations. They also do it for themselves. These people own the experience and will speak plainly about it.

    We’d be hard pressed to find many people in their mid-years who haven’t wondered if they will live with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia during the last years of their lives. After witnessing the disease, many adult children pray a prevention or cure may be found before they, too, must battle the disease, leaving their children to cope with caring for a parent with dementia.

    For these reasons, news about progress in understanding Alzheimer’s and other dementia is of intense interest to millions of people.

    Now, of course, these studies with mice must be repeated and eventually, if the theory proves out, a vaccine may be produced to stop Tau from spreading. The vaccine would first be used in animal trials, eventually going to human trials to see if it is safe and effective for humans. A time frame?  It’s anyone’s guess, but optimistically it’s likely five to ten years out. That isn’t bad for a 40 or 50-year-old who worries that he or she may follow their parent down the road to Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Please support efforts for funding to end AD and other dementias. Let your representatives in Congress know you want this done. We want a cure or prevention soon. The only sure way will be through more research.

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    Meanwhile, work to keep your body healthy overall with exercise, diet, mental stimulation and social interaction. These aren’t guaranteed routes to brain health but it’s the bet we have for now.

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Published On: February 07, 2012