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Hope for Alzheimer’s as research goes on worldwide

July 2019

older woman holds her head as if struggling to recall
Memory loss and Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared problems connected with ageing

One of the greatest fears of getting old can be concern about dementia. This awful condition affects over 850,000 people in the UK and over 44 million people worldwide.

An interesting fact is that generally it is estimated that around 61% of people with dementia are women and 39% are men.

This difference used to be associated with the fact that women tended to live longer than men and of course age plays a big part in the risk factor for dementia.

But now new evidence is coming to light that shows that differences in brain connectivity may be linked to the fact that there are more female sufferers.

This recent research was carried out on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a name for different diseases that affect the brain and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Working on the specific disease of Alzheimer’s, researchers at America’s Vanderbilt University Medical Centre recently undertook an intensive investigative programme to try and find out the causes behind the differences in the ratio of men and women sufferers.

One of the features of Alzheimer’s is a build up of proteins called tau and amyloid in the brain. They can form tangled clumps which are toxic and cause brain cells to die resulting in the memory problems associated with the disease. The researchers studied the brain scans of hundreds of men and women to try and find a pattern for this tau protein.

The results showed that in the areas where the tau protein builds up, women had better brain connectivity than men. This specific difference in the brain connectivity of areas at risk of tau protein build up could play a significant role. It may not sound a massive breakthrough to most of us, but the researchers are now undertaking ongoing investigations with the hope that this could lead to the way to identifying ways to help reduce the risk of future development of the disease.

Other studies around the world have also been undertaken to try and find the reason why women seem more susceptible to Alzheimer’s

This tau protein has also been the subject of a massive study at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Philadelphia’s Temple University. Here for the first time, researchers have identified a molecule, called VPS35, which detects and removed defective proteins from neurons. This molecule has shown to clear the brain of the potentially harmful tau protein.

The results of this new study were published last week and explained that the research investigated the effect of the VPS35 molecule on diseases such as Picks’ disease where tau was the only protein to form deposits on the brain. This gave a clearer indication of the effect of VPS35, and the next step in to work out how to incorporate this molecule into effective medication.

The research was lead by Domenico Practico who says the plan to investigate putting VPS35 into a drug would be a unique approach.

“Instead of targeting an enzyme, as other small molecules have been developed to do, we would be targeting an actual mechanism, which should be more viable," he said.

There is a long way to go, but bit by bit the background to the development of Alzheimer’s, and indeed all forms of dementia, are slowly being unravelled. There is great hope for the future thanks to the tireless work of all these scientists and researchers across the world.

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