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New Hope for Alzheimer's Patients: Cause of Disease Possibly Detected, Cure May be Next

By Andrew Collins , May 28, 2016 05:38 AM EDT
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Researchers at Harvard University discovered an unlikely contributing factor to the progress of Alzheimer's disease, caused by a by-product of the body's response to infection. The discovery solves one mystery surrounding the development of the disease.

The research shed new light on the cause of Alzheimer's disease, exposing evidence of factors that contribute to nerve cell breakdown in the brain. The findings may help in the development of a cure.

As confirmed in a Forbes report, Alzheimer's disease progresses as the brain becomes increasingly susceptible to infection. Normally, there's a barrier between the blood and brain cells that keep blood pathogens at bay. This barrier weakens with age. Alzheimer's develops when these pathogens invade the brain.

The Harvard research discovered new details on how the brain defends against infections, though. It turns out the pathogens are isolated in protein cages (beta amyloids). Upon containment, pathogens die but the beta amyloid cages remain intact. These cages accumulate defective tau proteins that destroy surrounding nerve cells.

Tau proteins assist in cell maintenance, but the mass of defective tau proteins around beta amyloid cages eventually cause inflammation, destroying more nerve cells. Alzheimer's disease is caused by the exponential destruction of these nerve cells.

The research was conducted inside living organisms, specifically in roundworms and mice. Though it's yet to be confirmed if the findings apply to humans, there's also no evidence on the contrary. Previous research was conducted outside living organisms, with similar results.

According to the research, the newly discovered cause offers new targets for Alzheimer's disease medications. "It remains unclear whether Aβ is fighting a real or falsely perceived infection in AD. However, in any case, these findings identify inflammatory pathways as potential new drug targets for treating AD."

The findings are promising but remain inconclusive, with possibilities open for other causes of Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Association website estimates more than five million Americans have the disease and it is currently sixth in the leading causes of death in the United States.

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