Science and Medicine

Alzheimer’s Damage Occurs Early

As many as 91 percent of the patients with mild memory impairment who had these risk markers went on to develop Alzheimer's within a 10-year period

The first changes in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be observed as much as 10 years in advance—10 years before the person in question has become so ill that he or she can be diagnosed with the disease. This is what a new study from Lund University in Sweden has found.

Physician Oskar Hansson and his research group are studying biomarkers—substances present in spinal fluid and linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The group has studied close to 140 people with mild memory impairment, showing that a certain combination of markers (low levels of the substance beta-amyloid and high levels of the substance tau) indicate a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

As many as 91 percent of the patients with mild memory impairment who had these risk markers went on to develop Alzheimer’s within a 10-year period. In contrast, those who had memory impairment but normal values for the markers did not run a higher risk of getting Alzheimer’s than healthy individuals. Oskar Hansson previously carried out a study showing that pathological changes can be seen in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient five years before the diagnosis. The new study has thus doubled this time span to ten years.

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Do Our Medicines Boost Pathogens?

With some exaggeration: medical practice helped in developing a superbug

Scientists of the Institute of Tropical Medicine discovered a parasite that not only had developed resistance against a common medicine, but at the same time had become better in withstanding the human immune system. With some exaggeration: medical practice helped in developing a superbug. For it appears the battle against the drug also armed the bug better against its host.

“To our knowledge it is the first time such a doubly armed organism appears in nature,” said researcher Manu Vanaerschot, who obtained a PhD for his detective work at ITG and Antwerp University. “It certainly makes you think.”

Vanaerschot studies the Leishmania parasite, a unicellular organism that has amazed scientists before. Leishmania is an expert in adaptation to different environments, and the only known organism in nature disregarding a basic rule of biology: that chromosomes ought to come in pairs. (The latter was also discovered by ITG-scientists recently.) The parasite causes leishmaniasis, one of the most important parasitic diseases after malaria. It hits some two million people, in 88 countries—including European ones—and annually kills fifty thousand of them. The parasite is transmitted by the bite of a sand fly. The combined resistance against a medicine and the human immune system emerged in Leishmania donovani, the species causing the deadly form of the disease.

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Alzheimer’s Drug Candidate May Be First to Prevent Disease Progression

A new drug candidate may be the first capable of halting the devastating mental decline of Alzheimer's disease,

A new drug candidate may be the first capable of halting the devastating mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease, based on the findings of a study published in PLoS ONE.

When given to mice with Alzheimer’s, the drug, known as J147, improved memory and prevented brain damage caused by the disease. The new compound, developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, could be tested for treatment of the disease in humans in the near future.

“J147 enhances memory in both normal and Alzheimer’s mice and also protects the brain from the loss of synaptic connections,” said David Schubert, the head of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, whose team developed the new drug. “No drugs on the market for Alzheimer’s have both of these properties.”

Although it is yet unknown whether the compound will prove safe and effective in humans, the Salk researchers’ say their results suggest the drug may hold potential for treatment of people with Alzheimer’s.

As many as 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, according to the National Institutes of Health. More than 16 million will have the disease by 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Association estimates, resulting in medical costs of more than $1 trillion per year.

The disease causes a steady, irreversible decline in brain function, erasing a person’s memory and ability to think clearly until they are unable to perform simple tasks such as eating and talking, and it is ultimately fatal. Alzheimer’s is linked to aging and typically appears after age 60, although a small percentage of families carry a genetic risk for earlier onset. Among the top 10 causes of death, Alzheimer’s is the only one without a way to prevent, cure or slow down disease progression.

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