Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Alzheimer's- a deeper look

Scientists around the globe are striving to not only understand what causes Alzheimer's but how to slow it down and have hopes of curing it as well. I came across two articles from U.S. News which discuss scientists latest finds in researching the genes that may cause Alzheimer's.

Trio of Gene Variations That May Raise Alzheimer's Risks explains how defects in CLU, CR1 and PICALM genes may increase ones chance of developing Alzheimer's.

"Although the role of these two new genes [CLU and CR1] . . . is not yet known in detail, previous studies suggest that they may be involved in the elimination of the major component of amyloid plaques," explained Amouyel, the leader of the team that studied the CLU and CR1 genes. "Genetic variants at CLU, CR1 and APOE may influence susceptibility to late-onset forms of the disease."

The collaboration of scientists from all over the world plus more than 20,000 individuals that volunteered for the study has provided the biggest genetic breakthrough in over ten years. Finding the gene variants may help them discover new treatments to slow or cure the disease. Three Genes Linked to Alzheimer's Disease Risk is a similar article. Click here to read.

In another study, it is believed that colds and coughs may speed up the progression of Alzheimer's. It may be that infections cause inflammation in the body, which speeds up the damage caused by Alzheimer's. However, another explanation for the link is that people with worsening Alzheimer's are more vulnerable to infections.

In this study, 275 Alzheimer's patients spent six months taking a series of tests which involved memory, thinking, as well as measuring TNF-alpha (a chemical that helps create inflammation). This is what was found:

Their carers were asked to record any illnesses or injuries, such as coughs, colds, upset stomachs, urinary tract infections, falls, and bruises.

People who had higher TNF-alpha at the start of the study had slightly lower scores on memory and thinking tests after six months. People with low levels had a drop of about 0.8 points, compared with 2.4 points for people with high levels.

About half the people in the study had at least one infection or injury. These people were also likely to get poorer test scores. People who hadn't been ill saw their average score drop by 1.6 points, compared with 3.5 for people who had at least one infection or injury.

Although the researchers did find a bigger drop in test scores for people suffering inflammation, the differences were small. They amount to about 2 points, and the scale ran from 0 to 70. Doctors usually say that there must be a change of about 4 points on this scale before you'd notice a difference in the severity of someone's Alzheimer's.

How reliable are the findings?

The study did find a link between infections and worsening Alzheimer's, but it's impossible to be sure that these illnesses really caused the decline. It might be that as people become more ill with Alzheimer's, they're more vulnerable to infections and injuries. For example, research has shown that people who have Alzheimer's have a higher risk of falls. It's also possible that someone struggling to look after themselves might have difficulty with things like regularly washing their hands, which can increase the risk of colds and flu.

Another issue is that infections can make people confused. This could have led to lower scores in the memory tests, rather than worsening Alzheimer's. The researchers took cases of delirium caused by infection into account, but they might have missed milder cases of confusion.

In an effort to find a cure or to delay the progress of Alzheimer's researchers looked at a cancer drug that make it easier for neurons in the brain to manufacture new proteins in mice. Read more here: Cancer Drug May Fight Alzheimer's

Related Articles:

New Alzheimer's Gene Target's Found

National Institute on Aging

Participating in Alzheimer's Research

AD Clinical Trials: Questions and Answers

Related posts by RMS Snowdrop:

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's stole my grandma

Alzheimer's stole my Nanny

If I develop Alzheimer's: A letter to my family

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