Scientists Find New Clue in Treating Alzheimer's
A study at the University of Southampton in the UK may change the way researchers are looking at the causes and potential treatments of Alzheimer’s disease.
Until recently, scientists thought Alzheimer's disturbed the immune system -- but this new study, involving mice, adds to mounting evidence that it could be inflammation in the brain that drives the disease. The finding suggests that blocking a protein that regulates immune cells could be a way to stop the brain-wasting condition.
The team compared brain tissue samples from healthy people with those of people of the same age with Alzheimer's. They were particularly interested in differences in the numbers of microglia -- a type of cell that, among other things, helps regulate immune responses like inflammation.
They found that the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease had more microglia than the brains of the healthy subjects. What’s more, the molecules that regulate the cells appeared to be more active where the disease was more severe.
In another part of the study, researchers investigated microglia in mice engineered to develop features of Alzheimer's disease. As the disease progressed, the animals' brains showed increasing numbers of microglia.
However, blocking a certain protein with an oral dose of an inhibitor prevented the rise in microglia seen in the untreated mice. The inhibitor also stopped the loss of communication links between nerve cells that is a feature of Alzheimer's.
The next step is to build on these results and work to develop a safe drug to test in humans and see if blocking the action of the protein has the same effect.
Alzheimer's is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that, together with other forms of dementia, affects 47.5 million people worldwide and gives rise to 7.7 million new cases a year.
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