Alzheimer’s Disease affects millions of older Americans. This degenerative brain condition often develops slowly in otherwise relatively healthy people and progresses to the point where they can no longer care for themselves. Family members are left to watch as affected loved ones lose their memories and require full-time care. There have been no treatments to stop the disease, but recent advances in scientific understanding may lead to future treatments.
The brain of an Alzheimer’s patient has lots of plaque, which is characteristic of the full-blown onset of the illness. A substance known as beta-amyloid leads to the formation of this plaque, and is what is believed to trigger the nerve cell damage and death that causes the symptoms of the disease.
Scientists in Germany have proven that a protein, called ADAM10, can inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid by cutting the protein from which it is formed, on a molecular level. Experts have dubbed the formation protein as amyloid precursor protein. There are a couple of enzymes that interact with this protein to create beta-amyloid, and blocking those can inhibit its creation. An enzyme, called alpha secretase, which can even cut the precursor protein without forming the Alzheimer’s causing substance, has even been found.
By analyzing brain cells in mice and in human cell cultures, scientists have found that this ADAM10 gene prevented beta-amyloids from forming, and in fact was the only one that could do so. A less active version of this gene could possibly leave people more susceptible to the degenerative brain disease, and stimulating ADAM10 may be a potential means for therapy in Alzheimer’s patients. Even more, antibodies discovered by the same scientists might allow the measurement of the protein in spinal fluid.
This research, therefore, could lead to methods for early diagnosis as well as treatment. For a devastating disease for which there has been no way to assess risk in getting or even treating after its onset, this potential is welcome news. Various experiments using the proteins and antibodies are underway and any future medical breakthroughs that result in the future would be welcome by many people.