Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A step closer to understanding Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system (Tsai et al., 2012). It is a serious brain disorder that affects cognitive functions: mainly the abilities to remember, learn, create and reason (Robinson et al., 2012). It is the most common form of dementia (Robinson et al., 2012), which is estimated to affect 1 in 85 people by the year 2050 (Brookmeyer et al., 2007).

For Alzheimer’s patients at stage 7 of the disease, the stage where the abilities to walk, speak and sit are all severely impaired, patients are in need of constant care. This stage typically lasts anywhere from 1 to 2.5 years (Robinson et al., 2012). Clearly, with the duration of the disease and the numbers it affects, the discovery of a cure would be an enormous relief on healthcare systems globally.

As well as the constant support needed by Alzheimer’s patients, this disease dramatically affects the loved ones of those diagnosed with it. In most cases, friends and family of those affected have to cope with seeing significant changes, such as substantial memory loss and severe mood swings (Robinson et al., 2012). 

Although there are currently treatments that can help slow the progress of Alzheimer’s and lessen the symptoms of the disease, there is no cure as of yet for Alzheimer’s disease.

As humans are living longer, diseases that affect primarily the elderly, such as Alzheimer’s, are becoming more prevalent.

A global forecast on Alzheimer’s can be found here: Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, a recent scientific breakthrough has made a significant step towards fighting this disease. This breakthrough was the discovery that the restriction of cognitive capacities experienced by Alzheimer’s patients is caused by an epigenetic blockade of gene transcription, specifically the blockade of histone deacetylase 2 (Tsai et al., 2012). This discovery is significant, as it determines that the constrained cognitive abilities of Alzheimer’s patients are not absent, but impaired by an epigenetic barrier (Tsai et al., 2012).  This is shown below in Figure 1 (Tsai et al., 2012).

Figure 1: Cause of Chronic Cognitive Deficits

The journal article outlining the discovery can be found here: An epigenetic blockade of cognitive functions in the neurodegenerating brain

The study used many different methods of experimentation to come to the conclusion that it did. These methods were: the testing of human material donated by Alzheimer’s patients and behavioural experiments on mouse models. Also used were electrophysiological tests, where measurements of electrical activity of neurons were recorded. In vitro tests, and other forms of experimentation were also used (Tsai et al., 2012).

The knowledge that this study has gained indicates a step forward in the understanding of the neurodegenerative disease and will hopefully be useful in determining a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Disease Centre, 2012. Alzheimer’s Disease. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.med.nyu.edu/adc/forpatients/ad.html. [Accessed 17 March 2012]

Elsevier Inc., 2007. Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.alzheimersanddementia.org/article/PIIS155252600700475X/abstract. [Accessed 17 March 2012]

Helpguide.org, 2012. Alzheimer’s Disease: symptoms, stages and coping with Alzheimer’s disease. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_disease_symptoms_stages.htm. [Accessed 17 March 2012]

Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, 2012. An epigenetic blockade of cognitive functions in the neurodegenerating brain. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/nature/journal/v483/n7388/full/nature10849.html. [Accessed 17 March 2012]

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