Among the diseases most people are afraid of, Alzheimer’s is on the top of the list. This debilitating disease affects many people at old age and can pose difficult situations for the people concerned and their family. Last month scientist at the University of Rostock/ Germany made a spectacular discovery. A scientific group of 20 scientist led by Prof. Dr. Jens Pahnke discovered a new gene which plays a central role in the aetiology of this feared disease.
It is known that Alzheimer’s is concomitant with the development of plaques in the brain, i.e. areas of dying brain cells in the grey matter of the organ. These in turn have been suggested to be linked to amyloid fibres which are protein remnants that get deposited during life. It is therefore believed that Alzheimer’s is caused by the inability of the body to remove these naturally occurring amyloid fibres from the brain.
The researchers found that mice lacking the newly discovered gene have a 12-fold increased of the protein responsible for causing the disease. Thus it is now believed that this gene could be responsible for the regulation of this deleterious process. One of the great advantages of working with mice is that one can observe in a simple animal model in a few months what takes 60-80 years in human brains.
In addition to this new and magnificent discovery, the research group is also already actively involved in trying to find ways to control this gene, i.e. potentially finding therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s. Because this discovery is so novel, these therapeutic strategies are completely new and open a new avenue in order to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The group from Rostock University already actively co-operates with a pharmaceutical company in the United States to develop such strategies. In particular a drug already on the market to treat pain and nausea has been very promising in their studies and collaborations. This drug might be able to be developed into a substance actively reducing the risk to develop Alzheimer’s.
In addition, some natural products (i.e. products isolated from plants, corals, fungi etc.) also seem promising in controlling this novel gene. This interdisciplinary research is very important and necessary to advance the medical sciences in our modern society.
The gene concerned might also be exploited as a marker to diagnose the disease early and thus either help the patients to cope with the onset of Alzheimer’s or suggest other preventive measures to postpone the onset by up to 5 years. Until now we do not have such a marker, and it could be the first step for a diagnosis and also a potential treatment.
Such a success is overdue. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown in 99% of the patients and by 2050 between 100 and 360 million people are expected to have dementia. Alone in Britain more than half the population will be above 50 years old and up to 6 million could then have Alzheimer’s disease.
Recently, the new highly successful blockbuster movie “Planet of the Apes – The Beginning” exploited the idea of an Alzheimer’s vaccine for its own purposes. The film was not just successful because of the wonderful CGI and effects, but also because the debate about this disease is a very hot topic.
We at City Connect are looking very carefully what advances will be made on this subject and will report as soon as we hear more news.
If you are interested in getting involved in Charity events regarding Alzheimer’s, contact Alzheimer Research UK, with which City Connect has close ties. It is also represented on our charity section.
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