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Alzheimer’s may NOT be caused by toxic protein clumps killing cells

Alzheimer’s may NOT be caused by toxic protein clumps killing brain cells: Study debunks the established theory and could pave the way for new treatments

  • Past research implies dementia occurs due to amyloid proteins causing plaques
  • These plaques were thought to kill nerve cells or make toxic tangles in the brain
  • New study suggests proteins do cause plaques but not cell death or the tangles
  • Researcher believes the ‘exciting’ finding ‘opens the way for drug screening’ 
  • Alzheimer’s affects around 5.5 million people in the US and 850,000 in the UK
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Alzheimer’s disease may not be caused by toxic protein clumps killing brain cells, new research suggests.

Previous findings imply the commonest form of dementia occurs due to amyloid proteins in the brain sticking together to form plaques.

These plaques were thought to lead to the disease by killing nerve cells or causing another protein to make toxic tangles in the brain.

A new study found amyloid proteins do cause plaques, however, these do not lead to nerve cell death or such tangles.

Study author Professor Ernst Wolvetang, from the University of Queensland, said: ‘Our data challenges the current dogma in the field that amyloid plaques are sufficient to cause neurodegenerative changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

‘Excitingly, this opens the way for drug screening’.

Alzheimer’s disease affects around 5.5 million people in the US and 850,000 in the UK. With no cure, most sufferers live just eight-to-10 years after their diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease may not be caused by toxic protein clumps killing brain cells (stock)


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Pauses in speech and taking longer to talk may be early signs of mental decline, research suggested in July 2017.

People with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease who are at-risk of developing the condition are less able to express their ideas and have reduced ‘fluency’ when speaking, a study found.

They also use words such as ‘it’ or ‘they’ rather than specific names for things and speak in shorter sentences, the research adds.

Julie Liss, a speech expert at Arizona State University, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘Those are all indicators of struggling with that computational load that the brain has to conduct’.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted a picture-description test on 400 healthy people.

Such tests involve participants viewing a picture and answering a multiple-choice question about it.

The researchers carried out the same test on 264 people in their 50s and 60s, most of which had a parent with Alzheimer’s disease and were considered at-risk of the condition.

Two years later, the same participants repeated the test. 

How the research was carried out 

The researchers analysed stem cells from people with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome patients are more likely to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Lead author Dr Dmitry Ovchinnikov explained: ‘People with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, and therefore carry an extra copy of the amyloid precursor protein gene.’

The researchers used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to alter levels of this protein in stem cells that become brain cells. CRISP is a tool for making precise edits in DNA.

Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth.  

Speaking of the results, Professor Wolvetang added: ‘The research highlights that human stem cell-based disease modelling in the dish can provide new insights into the molecular mechanisms that conspire to cause Alzheimer’s disease and, excitingly, this now opens the way for drug screening.’

Beetroots may help in the fight against Alzheimer’s

This comes after research released last March suggested beetroots may help in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Betanin, which is a compound that gives the vegetable its distinctive red colour, may slow the accumulation of protein plaque tangles in the brain.

Study author Dr Li-June Ming, from the University of South Florida, said: ‘Our data suggest that betanin, a compound in beet extract, shows some promise as an inhibitor of certain chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

‘This is just a first step, but we hope that our findings will encourage other scientists to look for structures similar to betanin that could be used to synthesise drugs that could make life a bit easier for those who suffer from this disease.’

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