Scientists searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s disease are getting excited about three ‘mouse models’. Alzheimer’s disease is the main cause of dementia in elderly people. Dementia is the blight of whole family lives as it robs people of their short-term memory and their mental abilities to guide even the most basic of human tasks. It is not yet certain what causes Alzheimer’s or how it spreads through the key memory areas of our brains. We are nowhere near a cure for Alzheimer’s while effective treatment is still many years and dollars away. However these new experiments are a glimmer of hope.
What we do know is that there is a correlation between a plaque type build up on brain cells and dementia. The plaque is caused by the crusty build up of proteins known as beta amyloids on the exterior of those crucial brain cells. Much scientific effort is focused upon ‘deplaquing’ in order to halt Alzheimer’s. De-plaquing in humans is the job of proteins called apolipoprotein E, or ApoE. We all have different versions of these proteins and one version called ApoE 4 is known risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s.
A recent American study described in the journal ‘Science’ reports plaque in mice being destroyed at very rapid rates and signs of improved memory functions. The big caveat on all of this is that oftentimes, changes in laboratory animals do not carry through to efficacious treatment in humans. The researchers at the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio were looking for means to boost levels of ApoE, which it is hypothesized will reduce levels of beta-amyloid. They tried bexarotene. This is drug approved for use in the treatment of skin cancers on mice with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease.
The changes in the mice however are very interesting. The clumps of beta amyloid protein on the brain cells of the mice were quickly broken down within hours of the mice being treated with ApoE. Following a single dose of the drug the levels of beta amyloid in young mice dropped significantly in 6 hours and 25 percent reduction was maintained for the next 3 days. Mature mice with long-standing plaques had half the quantity of plaque on their brain cells after 1 week of the treatment. The mice also showed behavioral improvement in observable things such as building nests, finding their way around mazes, and recalling electric shocks.
This is a multi factor improvement in de-plaquing speeds. Prior tests had to be measured in months to see plaque reductions. Obviously it is very early days and the number of successful mice experiments is low, just 3 mice models so far, but the results are undeniably exciting. The potential is a therapy that will work for Alzheimer sufferers and indeed other brain degenerating conditions such as Parkinson’s. This treatment is now moving on to clinical trials with Alzheimer sufferers. The researchers will try to de-plaque a small group of people with Alzheimer’s.