There’s been a lot of news about breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s disease research this week, including a Page One story in The New York Times Thursday about two new studies.
The separate research, done at Harvard and Columbia universities, found the Alzheimer’s spreads “like an infection from brain cell to brain cell,” which may be crucial in finding a way to treat the disease.
As The Times explains it, there have been two theories about Alzheimer’s. One has been that it travels neuron to neuron in the brain. The other theory is that “some brain areas are more resilient than others and resist the disease longer,” The Times reported.
At the core of this is tau, a protein. Brain cells, dying and filled with tau, first show up in the part of the brain that governs memories. Then it appears that this tau spreads out to the parts of the brain related to reasoning.
The Harvard and Columbia research both involved mice, which were genetically engineered to make abnormal human tau protein, according to The Times. The mice could create that tau in an area of the brain, the entorhinal cortex, where cells usually first start dying of Alzheimer’s in humans.
The mice did sustain brain damage in the cortex, but soon that damage spread like a virus to other parts of their brains.
“Since those other cells could not make human tau, the only way they could get the protein was by transmission from nerve cell to nerve cell,” The Times wrote.
Researchers now believe that Alzheimer’s spreads, like a virus, through a human brain the same way.
If researchers can find a way to block the neuron-to-neuron spread of tau, and the production of another Alzheimer’s accomplice, beta amyloid, a hard plaque that forms in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s, they could stop the disease in its tracks, according to The Times.
The article also says that the new research may also be applicable and provide a possible treatment for those with Parkinson’s disease.
The Times story offers all the details of the research, which provides some hope on what has not been a very hopeful topic.