New discovery could radically change what we know about Alzheimer’s

17 Jan 2018

Image: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

New research into the brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s has discovered something that changes our understanding of the disease.

Is it possible that our therapeutic treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease have been going about things the wrong way?

That is the claim being made by a team of French and Canadian researchers, which has found new evidence that shows the rate at which a brain affected by Alzheimer’s loses its neurons and nerve endings – known as synapses – is significantly lower than we thought.

In a study published to Scientific Reports involving more than 170 subjects who were at various stages of the disease, the team analysed the fate of eight neuronal and synaptic markers in prefrontal cortices, showing only a very minor neuronal and synaptic loss.

This is a “radical change of thinking” from our current understanding of how the neurodegenerative disease works, according to the team’s lead, Salah El Mestikawy.

The team also attempted to correlate all of these minor synaptic losses with the subjects’ level of dementia, with the results showing that the declines in synaptic biomarkers had little impact on the participants’ cognitive skills.

“Until now, therapeutic interventions have been aimed at slowing synaptic destruction. Based on our study, we are going to have to change our therapeutic approach,” El Mestikawy said.

Experimental drug in the works

There has been increasing hope of late for those living with neurodegenerative disorders, with news last month that an experimental drug to slow down the onset of Huntington’s disease also showed serious promise for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The researchers that made the breakthrough are set to conduct another trial, grander in scale and for a longer period of time, as they were unable to determine whether the patients’ clinical symptoms had improved.

But, if it is proven to be an effective treatment, someone with the affected gene (or who has yet to develop symptoms of Huntington’s) would receive spinal injections approximately every three to four months to combat the disease.

A report into Alzheimer’s in 2015 found that almost 50m people across the globe live with dementia, and that, by 2050, this number will have risen to more than 131m as many parts of the world experience rapidly ageing populations.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic