This September will mark the 8th World Alzheimer’s Month, and that means there will be another entire month where the stigma of this dread disease can be combated, and awareness of it can be raised in citizenry around the globe. In Tupelo and elsewhere in the country and in the world, organizers will be trying their best to get more people involved in the fight against Alzheimer’s, and in trying to raise money that will lead to a cure. Senior home care professionals have long been witness to the debilitating effects wrought by the disease, and understand the importance of increased awareness, and in finding a permanent cure for it. Just this year, some very promising discoveries have been made in this regard, and it is just possible that a breakthrough in treatment may be around the corner.
The Norway study
A study which was published in Nature Neuroscience earlier this year described the research being done by a team comprised of University of Oslo personnel in conjunction with Akershus University Hospital. In Norway, there are approximately 100,000 dementia patients, and of these, about 65% are troubled with Alzheimer’s Disease. The breakthrough discovery made by this team was that there appears to be an accumulation of waste material in the brain cells of older people, and the body’s self-cleansing system is unable to remove this waste. It, therefore, continues to pile up, killing off brain cells, and interfering with common brain function and activities.
The really exciting thing about this discovery is that it would allow treatment of the disease at a much earlier stage. The reason that 99% of all medications prescribed currently for the treatment of Alzheimer’s fail utterly or provide minimal symptom relief, is that they address the problem too late in its development. By the time brain cells have been killed off, there is no real repair or cure which is possible, so the most that can be done is to provide some low-level relief of the worst symptoms associated with the disease.
Success with laboratory animals
Some impressive results have already been achieved with laboratory animals, in terms of reducing their memory loss and halting the spread of Alzheimer’s. By stimulating the brain cells’ self-cleaning mechanisms, the waste material which would otherwise have accumulated and killed off brain cells is cleaned out and eliminated from the brain. This allows the brain to go on functioning normally, free of the interference from waste accumulation.
The actual cleansing takes place in those parts of brain cells known as the mitochondria, which act as the power centers for all cells. Mitochondria are directly responsible for generating the energy needed by cells, and they also provide communication between cells. When mitochondria become broken by accumulating waste, it dramatically elevates the level of stress in the cells and usually causes the nerve cells (neurons) to become grossly dysfunctional, eventually dying off. The specific experiments conducted in the Norway study were able to identify substances which triggered the self-cleansing process in the brain so that mitochondria could be spared from the effects of waste adding up and impacting them.
Testing on humans
The Norway team of researchers has now combined its efforts with other teams around the globe, these coming from the U.S.A, Greece, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Clinical trials on human beings are now being set up in Denmark, so it can be determined if results similar to those achieved with the laboratory animals can also be achieved in human patients. It is now known with certainty that the cell-cleansing process plays a key role in Alzheimer’s Disease, at least with respect to humans and laboratory mice. There is growing optimism that by stimulating this cleansing process, the disease can be halted in its tracks, with no further damage taking place.
Alzheimer’s is known as a degenerative disease, meaning that it always gets worse over time. Now that the underlying mechanism for this degeneration is becoming better understood, it should theoretically become possible to prevent that continued degeneration and limit any damage which has already occurred in the brain. Of course, even if this new treatment should prove effective on humans, it will still depend on detecting the disease early enough so that major brain damage can be prevented.
Impact of a cure
There are approximately 46 million people around the world who are currently affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, and that figure is expected to rise to somewhere around 130 million people by the year 2050. If the results achieved by the Norway researchers can be duplicated with humans, that holds great promise for reducing the huge number of those who would otherwise be afflicted in the coming years. It should be remembered that even this breakthrough cannot achieve a restoration of full brain functionality, especially if the disease has already progressed significantly. However, it appears that it just might have the capability to stop any further advance of the disease, so that the degenerative aspect of it can be conquered.