Sunday, July 15, 2012

Earliest signs of alzheimer's disease uncovered

A lot of research goes towards discovering what causes dementia, of which alzheimer's disease is the most famous example. Because our life span is ever-increasing, incidence of alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will also increase over the course of years. Normally, alzheimer's starts off late in life, and its most well-known cause is the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain, effectively destroying the neurological tissue. It is important to uncover early signs pointing towards alzheimer's disease, because it gives the patient a chance to set his or her affairs in order. Also, it may give clinicians a better shot at treating or slowing down the disease, although a cure is not yet available. Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine conducted a study that tells us more about how alzheimer's develops.

A lot of alzheimer's patients develop the disease quite late in life due to accumulation of 'bad proteins' in the brain. However, in some cases, patients get the first symptoms in their thirties or forties; in such cases alzheimer's is most likely of an hereditary origin. This gave the Washington scientists a chance to set up a study in order to uncover the earliest changes visible leading up to the disease. They followed families with mutations in genes that would certainly cause alzheimer's later in life. By studying participants carrying such mutations, the researchers were able to uncover what happens before the first symptoms present themselves.

After tracking participants of parents with an hereditary form of alzheimer's, the scientists found that the first changes can be found as early as 25 years before the anticipated year of onset. Changes in cerebrospinal fluid, the stuff that flows through the brain, were the first thing to be noticed. Additionally, changes in the levels of a protein called Tau were found 15 years before the anticipated onset; accumulation of Tau inside cells is known to cause the typical tangles, which destroy nerve cells. 10 years before the expected onset, changes in glucose consumption of the brain were visible, as well as slight memory dysfunctions.

The study presents a set of events that mark the inbound onset of alzheimer's. Now, the question is whether the same can be found in patients without a hereditary form of the disease. Because the onset is normally much later in life, it may be that patients with a non-hereditary form have a different pathology and therefore also different 'warning signs'. It is therefore necessary to establish a link between the hereditary and non-hereditary forms of alzheimer's, should such a link exist.

It is not the first study conducted with the aim of finding early signs of alzheimer's. A novel imaging method, that uses magnetism, is able to detect early anomalies in brain parts known to be involved in the disease. It works by measuring chemical changes in the brain, that may eventually lead to full-blown alzheimer's. Additionally, scientists have also shown that the liver may play a role in the development, by transporting the characteristic β-amyloid plaques to the brain.

In order to cure something, it is necessary to know what causes it. Therefore, uncovering the earliest changes in brains of prospective alzheimer's patients is important for future attempts in order to cure the disease. There are already many novel forms of treatment under investigation, including the use of a drug normally used for cancer, deep brain stimulation, or even using computer grids to 'calculate' what drugs need to be made.
The most well-known sign of alzheimer's in the brain: plaques and tangles.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing these earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease, It's a great help for people with this kind of illness.

    Alzheimer specialist