Molecular discovery provides research pathway in Alzheimer’s.

Lewis Germain I Dec 16 2016

Far too many of us are familiar with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. This long-term, debilitating condition has provided a conundrum to scientists and clinicians with regards to an effective treatment. However, recent research has provided a glimmer of hope for those affected by the disease.

What is Alzheimer’s disease, and how does it differ from dementia?

The terms ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ and ‘dementia’ are often used interchangeably. Dementia is an umbrella term for memory loss and decline in other aspects of cognition including language, attention and orientation over at least 6 months, resulting in difficulties with everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for up to 50% of cases. Other causes include Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia and Frontotemporal dementia: these four are currently irreversible. There are several other causes of dementia, some of which are reversible, but these are less common.

The mainstay of managing Alzheimer’s disease is through stimulating the brain with group activities as well as strategies to enhance memory. The option of medication that aims to slow disease progression is available, but how effective these truly are is disputed.

New research findings

Tau and amyloid are two types of protein that build up in the brain tissue as Alzheimer’s disease develops. Previously, however, researchers were not able to find a link between the two; tau and amyloid were mainly found in different areas of the brain at different stages of the disease. However, for the first time, new research has found the two proteins depositing in the same small area of the brain in the early stages of the disease. This could mean a common pathway in their generation.

What does this mean for the future?

Finding a link between tau and amyloid, two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, increases our understanding of how the disease begins and progresses. What this provides is a focus for any research looking to develop new treatments. It’s unclear at the moment whether this will mean slowing the disease, curing it, or in fact, anything at all, but it is a breakthrough nonetheless. If this is to lead to any new treatments it is likely to take time, but the progress is something to be encouraged by.

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease or dementia on the whole, please visit the links below. If you have any concerns about your or a relative’s memory and functioning, it may be worth visiting your GP. However, this can be a difficult subject to approach with a loved one, in which case, the Alzheimer’s society helpline may be useful source of information and support (0300 222 11 22).   

Any opinions above are the author's alone and may not represent those of the NHS or Mind and Medicine. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice
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Koss DJ, Jones G, Cranston A et al (2016). Soluble pre-fibrillar tau and β-amyloid species emerge in early human Alzheimer’s disease and track disease progression and cognitive decline. Acta Neuropathologica; 132(6): 875-895.