With an ageing population, Alzheimer’s is one of the largest problems facing our society, and one that I have had some personal experience with. It is also one of my own biggest fears. But there has been a recent spate of studies that offer hope in this direction. I’m excited about the current state of Alzheimer’s research.
The most recent study was widely reported in the mainstream (i.e. non-science) press. Scientists have developed a “100% accurate” test for Alzheimer’s based on spinal fluid. Although the 100% claim was slightly exaggerated it is still an enormous step forward. The test is said to enable us to identify Alzheimer’s very early on, even before the full development of symptoms. It is also said to show that people may develop the disease a long time before they start showing symptoms. By identifying it early we can start treating it early, rather than just managing the symptoms.
Of course, the problem is that, as things stand, we have no real treatment for Alzheimer’s. But here’s the really exciting bit, and the reason why the announcement of the spinal fluid test is more significant than it otherwise could have been.
Two important discoveries have been made recently that represent light at the end of the tunnel. The first is the importance of the protein tau. Previous efforts to develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s have concentrated on plaques on the brain caused by beta-amyloids. It is the presence of these plaques that is used in autopsy to fully diagnose Alzheimer’s. The presence of tau protein tangles was seen as secondary to the beta-amyloid plaques. However, new research has shown that it is more likely to be tau itself that is causing Alzheimer’s. In fact, the beta-amyloid plaques can be present without causing any symptoms associated with the disease.
The importance of this discovery cannot be overstated. For 100 years, efforts to treat Alzheimer’s have been focused on a symptom, not a cause. Identifying the cause could be the catalyst for a new era of Alzheimer’s research.
The second very interesting piece of research to emerge concerns a chemical compound known enigmatically as P7C3. Used in rats, P7C3 was shown to protect memory-forming cells in the hippocampus both in ageing rats suffering memory problems naturally and in rats engineered to have memory problems. The scientists reported a 100% success rate. Even better, P7C3 is easy to administer and can be taken orally.
Taken together, these studies represent offer tremendous hope. If we can identify Alzheimer’s early and administer treatments based on P7C3 and its derivatives based on greater understanding of tau, Alzheimer’s could become a thing of the past.
The problem with life is…everything’s going to be fine.