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14-Dec-10 10:00 AM  CST  

Preliminary Research Provides New Clues to How Alzheimer’s Works 

Preliminary research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found a new clue on how Alzheimer’s disease affects patients’ brains, which could provide scientists with a new approach towards treating the disease.
The majority of research into Alzheimer’s suggests that patients with the disease overproduce a protein called beta-amyloid, which accumulates and slowly deteriorates the brain causing Alzheimer’s. However, researchers at Washington University have found evidence suggesting that Alzheimer’s patients may not be overproducing beta-amyloid. They are simply not clearing it from the brain efficiently.
For the study, the researchers compared the levels of beta-amyloid in the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) of 12 74-year-old participants. Six participants had been diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s (the most common form of Alzheimer’s), and six patients were deemed cognitively normal. Each patient’s CSF was sampled every hour for 36 hours. Researchers then measured how quickly beta-amyloid was produced and how quickly it was cleared. They found that both groups produced beta-amyloid at about the same rate, but the group with Alzheimer’s cleared beta-amyloid about 30 percent slower than the cognitively normal group.
"Abnormal protein deposits within the brain are a hallmark not only of Alzheimer's disease, but of many neurological disorders. With knowledge about how these proteins accumulate, we may be able to slow that process and reduce the damage to the brain," said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D., a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which helped fund the study.
Dr. Randall Bateman, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Washington University and senior author of the study, hopes his fellow researchers' technique of measuring the rate of beta-amyloid clearance in CSF can be used as a biomarker to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s earlier. Many current drugs and medications for Alzheimer’s that focus on clearing beta-amyloid from the brain have proven ineffective or only slightly effective in successfully slowing the deterioration of the disease. However, if the researchers are correct that the brain’s entire method of clearing beta-amyloid is impaired, Bateman believes they can target new therapies towards treating that mechanism before a person with Alzheimer’s develops dementia.
“In this initial report, we estimated that if normal clearance mechanism was down by about 30 percent, it would take upwards of about 10 years for people to build up the amyloid-beta in their brains to reach the amounts that are present in Alzheimer’s disease,” Bateman said in a video released by Washington Univeristy, St. Louis. “So this gives us a sense of how much time it may take for amyloid-beta clearance to be impaired, and that offers a window of opportunity. If people’s clearance is impaired for ten years before they’re diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, that’s an opportunity for treatments to intervene at that time before people get demented and too much brain damage occurs.”
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. A news release by the NIH said Alzheimer’s affects as many as 5.1 million Americans, and in the late-onset type of Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms usually appear after age 65.
The Washington University study was published in the journal Science.
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Total Comments: 1
    ILENE on 24-Jan-11 10:33 PM permalink

    For those of us who have lived through the plight of a family member with this devistaing disease, not enough can be done soon enough.<br>

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