As the most complex organ in the body, the intricate workings of the human brain are far from understood. That’s why brain disorders like Alzheimer’s are so difficult to treat. After decades of research, our best treatments are still unable to halt or reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s. But all of that may change soon, thanks in large part to two of the latest groundbreaking developments in Alzheimer’s research.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
As a degenerative disease, Alzheimer’s disease causes a gradual loss of brain function as synapses in the brain are disrupted and destroyed. Synapses are the connections between neurons that allow the brain to work, and they’re used in just about every function that the brain is supposed to do, especially the formation of memories and learning. The destruction of synapses causes the progressive onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, including impaired cognition, memory loss, changes in behavior, and eventually death.
A New Hope
The front line of the brain’s immune system is composed of microglia, a type of cell that specializes in cleaning the brain of plaques, bacteria, and damaged cells. Microglia make up as much as 10% of the all the cells in the brain. As we age, a protein receptor called EP2 naturally builds up in the brain, which can prevent microglia from doing their job. This allows bacteria, amyloid-beta plaques, and other harmful agents to linger, leading to clogged synapses and the death of nerve cells.
In only the past few months, researchers at Stanford found that by blocking EP2 in mice with Alzheimer’s disease, the mice showed significant improvements in brain function, and even recovered lost memories. The role of EP2 for Alzheimer’s in humans isn’t yet well understood, but a better understanding of it may allow us to develop a treatment that can reverse damage, or even help find the cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
More Reason for Optimism
Similarly exciting discoveries were made by researchers at the University of New South Wales, who recently discovered a new mechanism that is believed to directly contribute to the decay of synapses — a hallmark sign of early Alzheimer’s disease. Their work found that the destruction of synapses is directly linked to the loss of a protein called NCAM2, or neutral cell adhesion molecule 2. That means a better understanding of how to preserve NCAM2 in the brain may hold the key to helping develop both new Alzheimer’s disease treatments, and a means of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease earlier than ever before.
Finding the Cure
Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease? In short, the answer is no. Nevertheless, the new avenues for treatment that have opened up in the past two years alone are more than a little exciting, and it’s difficult not to feel hope at the sight of a cure on the horizon.
But the battle is far from over. Researchers may be making great strides against Alzheimer’s in a short time, but there’s still a fight to be waged against Alzheimer’s and similar serious diseases. If you’d like to do your part, consider looking for a Charity Walk in your area, and you can do your part to help find the cure.