Alzheimer's disease can be painful and devastating not only for the person who has it, but for the family and friends, too, who can't do anything about the situation.
Thankfully, a new study gives a flicker of hope with its new discovery.
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease, coined after the first doctor who discovered it, Alois Alzheimer, is a progressive physical disease that targets the brain. It is the most common form of dementia and is usually characterized by a wide range of symptoms, which are generally mild at the earlier stages, but become worse as the disease progresses.
Memory lapses, difficulty finding the right words to express one's self, visuospatial problems (unable to judge distance or seeing objects in three dimension), and delusions and hallucinations are often documented in people with Alzheimer's disease.
Tau Proteins Trigger Alzheimer's Disease
Normally, tau proteins, which are abundant in neurons of the central nervous system, are essential for a healthy functioning brain. However, in some people, these accumulate into toxic tangles that hurt the brain cells and trigger neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have made a breakthrough discovery: the presence of tau protein in the brain can be diminished with the likelihood of reversing the neurological damage it produced.
Published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the study, which was done in mice and monkeys, suggests that a drug compound, a synthetic molecule known as an antisense oligonucleotide, specifically targets the genetic instructions necessary for producing the tau protein.
A Possible Treatment For Alzheimer's Disease And Other Neurodegenerative Diseases
The latest knowledge on the damage abnormal tau proteins can cause in the brain and the synthetic molecules to help reverse it will not only help for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease but for rarer neurodegenerative diseases - which may include Pick's disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Huntington's Disease, Alexander disease, and corticobasal ganglionic degeneration - and dementia, too.
"Tau tangles correlate with cognitive decline in several diseases," said Dr. Timothy Miller, the study's senior author. "This is a promising new approach to lowering tau, but we have to test whether it is safe in people, and whether it actually lowers tau, as it is designed to do, before we get to the question of whether it has any effect on the disease. But everything we've seen so far says that this is worth investigating as a potential treatment for people."
After the study's success in mice and monkeys, human trials of oligonucleotides for a variety of other neurological diseases are currently in the works. Should these also be successful, we will soon have a possible treatment for Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease.