Breakthrough in Medical Research May Lead to Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease


Dallas, TX -- (SBWIRE) -- 08/20/2013 -- According to BrainReference, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a reduction of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex. It is one of the most common causes of dementia, and it mostly occurs in individuals over the age of 60. However, most age groups can be affected, depending on the type of onset that is present.

The most commonly recognized symptom of AD is difficulty in remembering things, be it where you left your keys or what the middle name of your daughter is. That doesn’t mean that you should rush to a doctor as soon as you have issues finding your pen. People that suffer from AD have consistent difficulties in recollecting events, facts, or processes that they have been familiar with for long periods of time.

It is important to keep in mind that AD doesn’t only affect the lives of people suffering from the disease; family, friends, colleagues, and even neighbors of those suffering from this condition can experience difficulties, be it emotional, financial, or physical, so it is important for people to stay informed regarding AD.

There are several theories that try to explain the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease, the most widely-accepted one stating that deposits of beta-amyloid are the main cause. These deposits are thought to be a result of the fragmentation of amyloid precursor protein (APP), a substance found in many tissues, particularly neuron synapses. After the fragmentation, the protein derivative sediments, creating plaques that eventually obstruct circulation in the area, leading to atrophy and loss of synapses. In layman’s terms, certain parts of the brain are slowly cut off from proper circulation because of deposits.

While the cause of AD is mostly agreed-upon, there is no unanimously accepted form of treatment. There are various suggested means of prevention, such as nootropics, vasodilators, or anticongestants, but most forms of medical treatment have revealed a success rate comparable to that of placebos.

With no cure available, the only available course of action is trying to manage the disease and reduce the speed of its evolution in individuals, be it through pharmaceuticals, herbal supplements, various types of therapy, or caregiving. On average, it is estimated that individuals in which AD was detected at an early stage and who attempted to manage it extend their lifespan by 5 to 8 years compared to those that had late detection or did not receive proper care.

A recent attempt was made at developing a cure for AD, by blocking the secretion of gamma secretase, a substance believed to be responsible for the fragmentation of APP. Unfortunately, this protease is necessary in other processes of the human body and its absence can lead to apparition of cancers or internal hemorrhage, hence research in this direction was abandoned. A new study conducted by a team of researchers in Switzerland has helped science gain a new understanding of how gamma secretase works. According to their article published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, it is possible to allow secretion of this substance in the human body, while partially modifying its effects. This is a result of the discovery that only one of the various proteins that the protease consists of might be responsible for the onset of AD, as well as many experiments that concluded that modulation of this substance is possible.

Based on this research, scientists believe it is now possible to create drugs that modulate the activity of gamma secretase, changing the position where it cuts the APP. This leads to shorter chains of beta-amyloid which can travel easier through the system, thus preventing the formation of plaques in the brain. This could reduce or even eliminate the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other forms of dementia. And, while previous attempts at devising a treatment that targets gamma secretase resulted in highly undesired effects, this approach could produce drugs that have little-to-no side effects.

This research has not gone unnoticed in the medical community, with the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr. Simon Ridley, declaring that “This study shows the latest generation of these drugs may target gamma secretase in a much more selective way, potentially reducing harmful effects.” Unfortunately, this is good news only for people that might develop AD in the future, as development of new treatments lasts months, and testing can last years. Only after the product has been tested and approved can it start being manufactured.

Another issue raised is that, while modulating gamma-secretase might result in plaques not being formed anymore, there is no evidence that this potential form of treatment can reverse damage that has already occurred in the brain. This means that the new treatment might not be a treatment after all, but more of a preventive measure, albeit more effective than the ones currently available on the market, with more medical evidence to support it, and less side-effects.

There is some speculation being made that, even if an efficient preventive measure can be developed, there is no system to dictate who should take the medicine and who shouldn’t. While there are some indicators that certain people have a predisposition towards developing AD (i.e. a mutation of one of the 3 genes believed responsible: presenilin 1 and 2, and APP), there have been numerous reported cases of people that, in theory, should not suffer from the disease but do in reality. This suggests that, should this new treatment work, research in the field of AD should soon shift towards discovering what the exact premise is for this disease to potentially take place.

Regardless of the potential effects of the soon-to-be-developed medicine, there is one undeniable fact at hand: the medical community is making continuous efforts to further our understanding of the human body. Through endless research and testing, there is constant progress in the development of new treatments, in order to enable people to live longer and healthier lives.

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