Breakthroughs in Alzheimer's Disease
Accounting for approximately 50 to 70% of all dementias, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) attacks and damages the brain which can result in the deterioration of memory, thinking and behaviour (What is Alzheimer’s Disease 2011). There are two types of AD, sporadic and familial, and they both work in a similar way. The neurodegenerative disease causes the destruction of nerve cells in the brain which also causes the overall reduction of brain tissue (What is Alzheimer’s Disease 2011). As more cells die, abnormal material begins to build up in the centre of the brain cells and also outside of them. These are known as “tangles” and “plaques” as seen in figure 1 (Alzheimer’s Disease 2010). Areas in the brain responsible for memory, thought and language are typically the first to be affected by the destruction of nerve cells. Being a progressive disease however, as more time passes, the damage to the brain continues (figure 2) producing more and more symptoms until death (What is Alzheimer’s Disease 2011). Currently, there is no known cause of Alzheimer’s disease nor is there a cure, but this may be a thing of the past.
Figure 1 Difference between a normal functioning brain and a brain with AD (Alzheimer's Disease Research 2012)
Figure 2 Comparison between normal and AD brain (Salzberg 2012)
Recently in the UC San Diego School of Medicine, researchers have made a breakthrough that may lead to the understanding and eventual cure of Alzheimer’s disease. Utilising a new stem cell technique they have been able to successfully replicate AD neurons (Mandal 2012). They did this by creating in vitro models of the two forms of AD (mentioned previously) using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). These cells can become any of the cell types that are found in a developed organism, implanted embryo or foetus (Glossary 2010). The iPSC used, were from patients who have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. To create the neurons, the researchers used fibroblasts (skin cells) of patients with both types of AD and also people with no apparent neurological diseases (Mandal 2012). The fibroblasts were then reprogrammed into the stem cells which were then differentiated into working neurons (Mandal 2012).
The significance of what this discovery means to the cure of Alzheimer’s disease is unprecedented. By creating functional Alzheimer’s neurons in a dish, these researchers have aided in the discovery of what causes the disease and have also made it possible to test different drugs to treat AD (Mandal 2012). One of the limitations in current research is due to the fact that when dealing with a human brain, a biopsy cannot be conducted on living patients. This makes it difficult to conduct any research towards the cure of AD. By creating this tool, it permits researchers to investigate the actual cause of the disease. By understanding what causes Alzheimer’s disease researchers can begin creating and testing new drugs that will hopefully eradicate the disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a fact in today’s society with an increasing amount people falling prey to the disease (Alzheimer’s Disease 2011). The cure of the neurodegenerative disease is a discovery that affects everyone.
· Alzheimer’s Disease 2010, viewed 14th March 2012, <http://www.fightdementia.org.au/understanding-dementia/alzheimers-disease.aspx>
· Alzheimer’s Disease Research 2012, viewed 20th March 2012, <http://www.ahaf.org/alzheimers/about/understanding/plaques-and-tangles.html>
· Glossary 2010, viewed 14th March 2012, <http://www.rejuvenare.com/category/q-a/glossary/>
· Mandal, A 2012, ‘Breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s Disease Research’, News Medical, viewed 12th March 2012, <http://www.news-medical.net/news/20120126/Breakthroughs-in-Alzheimere28099s-disease-research.aspx>
· Salzberg, S 2012, ‘An Alzheimer’s Disease Breakthrough’, Genome, viewed 20th March 2012, <http://genome.fieldofscience.com/2012/02/alzheimers-disease-breakthrough.html>
· What is Alzheimer’s Disease 2011, viewed 14th March 2012, <http://www.agedcarer.com.au/topic/aged-care-health-issues/what-alzheimers-disease->