Researchers from Australia’s Curtin University and the University of Western Australia have conducted a study on mice to reveal a likely cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
The ground-breaking study bears major implications for both the treatment and prevention of progressive neurological disorder.
The study unveiled on Wednesday and published in the PLOS Biology journal, linked Alzheimer’s disease to leakage of blood into the brain that carries toxic proteins.
Lead investigator and director at the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute professor John Mamo said while it was previously known that these toxic proteins were prevalent in people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently.
“This is the first time they have been traced.
“Our research shows that these toxic protein deposits that form in the brains of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, most likely leak into the brain from fat carrying particles in the blood, called lipoproteins.’’
He said that understanding the “blood-to-brain pathway’’ that carries particles to the brain is a crucial step in developing treatments for the disease, which has been largely untreatable.
The study involved genetically engineering mice to produce the lipoproteins, which were hypothesized to lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
“As we predicted, the study found that mouse models producing lipoprotein amyloid in the liver suffered inflammation in the brain, accelerated brain cell death and memory loss,’’ said Mamo.
Mamo said the finding opens up new ways to treat the disease, using diet and drugs to regulate one’s levels of the specific lipoprotein amyloid.
Professor Warren Harding from the Alzheimer’s WA, a Perth-based Alzheimer’s advocacy organization, said the findings may have a significant global impact on the millions of people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Having universities like Curtin working with the pharmaceutical industry is important if we are to tackle this devastating disease,’’ said Harding.
Alzheimer’s, a disease that is primarily found in older individuals, has a particularly devastating impact on countries with an aging population, like Australia.
Harding said half a million Australians are already living with the disease and, at current rates, that number is estimated to exceed one million by 2058.
Further to this study, Mamo and his team were currently conducting a clinical trial that seeks to use existing drugs to lower lipoprotein-amyloid production in humans and, as shown in mice, to support their cognitive performance.