Science | Have we found the key to curing Alzheimers?

Scientists are optimistic for the imminent development of a drug that can treat those suffering from brain diseases, following a British study that established a targeted approach which halts the death of neurons.

Neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s disease, are all characterized by the accumulation of misfolded proteins that form lumps or fibrous ‘plaques.’ Build ups of these harmful  plaques causes surrounding nerve cells to die, eventually contributing to significant declines in brain function. At present, there is no cure for these conditions. Patients only seek solace in medical offers that enhance their way of life alongside the condition. In the UK, 800,000 people suffer with dementia, the majority caused by Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, with the number of sufferers set to reach one million by 2021, it is clear that neurodegenerative conditions represent an extensive health burden for the NHS. Currently incurable, this most recent breakthrough, made by scientists at the University of Leicester, offers hope that the we will soon develop a drug to finally treat these debilitating conditions.

In essence, this novel research centered on tackling the manner by which brain cells react to the misfolded proteins. By using a mouth tube to inject diseased mice with a drug into their stomachs, scientists were able to switch a cellular trigger that prevents neuron death. Moreover, the researchers found that, five weeks after treatment, the mice exhibited no typical neurodegenerative manifestations such as memory loss, impairment of reflexes and dragging of limbs. Instead, they were shown to have longer life-spans than untreated animals living with the same brain disease. Notably, Professor Mallucci, who led the study, saw the possibility of a treatment with the ability to “stop the disease in its tracks and protect brain cells, restoring some normal behaviors and preventing memory loss in the mice.”

Whilst the discovery remains highly significant, it remains likely that, considering this breakthrough still remains to be tested on humans and since the drug produced noticeable side effects, it will be at least a decade before a concrete cure is developed. As well as this, the mice were in actual fact, induced with prion diseases which, although previously shown to be useful in aiding knowledge in general neurodegenerative conditions, is not precisely designated, meaning that further research is imperative in order to determine whether this approach will produce likened results in other diseases.

Nonetheless, it is important to highlight the progress of this finding. Crucially, Professor Mallucci’s study has forwarded the critical principle that oral administration of a drug can stop neurodegeneration rooted from the accumulation of brain plaques. This favorable discovery is directing scientists on a novel research path; yet, as with all supposed breakthroughs, it is only upon completion that hallmarks the journey to the cure can be identified.


Sofia Popov

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