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Scientists Reverse Alzheimer's In Mice, Offers New Hope In Humans

Did you ever think that curing Alzheimer’s was as simple as removing a single gene?

That’s what some researchers are saying may be possible after an experimental treatment completely reversed Alzheimer’s disease in mice.

The results of this study further bolster the theory that the root cause of Alzheimer’s is associated with amyloid plaques. A long-held belief of many neurologists and Alzheimer’s specialists. 

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, found that by slowly reducing the brain levels of an enzyme called BACE1 in mice as they aged - they were able to either prevent Alzheimer’s completely or reverse the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain.1

In addition to a reduction in plaques impairing communication between brain cells, the mice also showed signs of cognitive improvement. 

The Future Of Alzheimer’s Treatment?

One of the only ways doctors are able to make the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is through the identification of an abnormal buildup of beta-amyloid peptides, a protein that can build into the large amyloid plaques in the brain.

And amyloid plaques are formed when bits of protein clump together in the brain. These types of plaques are found in high amounts in Alzheimer’s patients.2

BACE1 helps to produce beta-amyloid peptides, and by inhibiting the enzyme with drugs doctors could ultimately halt the buildup of amyloid plaques.

Testing The Theory

To confirm their hypothesis researchers engineered a group of mice that lose the BACE1 enzyme as they grow older. 

And while mice that completely lacked the enzyme altogether suffer severe neurological defects, mice who gradually stop producing remain healthy over time. 

In fact, researchers found that even when amyloid plaques form in the brains of mice, they also disappear as the mice progressively lose the BACE1 enzyme.

Just The Beginning

While the results of this study are promising, the authors are quick to point out that such promising results don’t come without caution. 

To begin with, the experiment has only been performed in mice, so there is no guarantee that it will work on humans.

In addition, BACE1 takes part in several other important functions in the body, and drugs that progressively destroy it could have serious side effects.

And because the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is a difficult and frustrating process, this research as promising as it is, is just the beginning. 

But given the early results it’s a worthwhile avenue to pursue.

Doctors Are Hopeful

In an interview with Newsweek Magazine, Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine admits that the results are promising.

However, he warns that we shouldn’t get too excited yet.

He explained that mice are different from humans in many ways and pointed out that previous clinical trials that focused on blocking amyloid plaques have been unsuccessful. 

“And even if amyloids were the right target, he added, we’d still have a minimum of five to seven years before we would know if the same approach is helpful in humans."

But, Dr. Daniel Franc, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, was a little more optimistic.

He thinks that regardless of whether this exact finding can be successfully translated to humans, it’s still an important step in the right direction. 

“I would say that this is an incremental finding. It’s not revolutionary, but it does add further support to current ongoing approaches,” said Dr. Franc.

He finished by saying that at the very least, research like this gives him hope that at least we’re on the right track.

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References:

1. Hu, Xiangyou et al. "BACE1 Deletion In The Adult Mouse Reverses Preformed Amyloid Deposition And Improves Cognitive Functions." The Journal of Experimental Medicine 215.3 (2018): 927-940.

2. "Alzheimer's Brain Plaques - Alzheimer's Association." Alz.org.

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