Alzheimer’s research conducted out of the Cambridge Department of Chemistry has potentially isolated a cause for what triggers the neurological disease in humans. The neurodegenerative condition is believed to be caused by abnormal proteins which develop “misfolded” causing the death of neurons in the brain leading to dementia and other neurological conditions. The discovery of these proteins has the potential to allow doctors to diagnose the condition at a much earlier state than currently is possible, which could lead to early treatment to slow or stop the disease from spreading. In addition to Alzheimer’s, it is believed that the same types of proteins are the cause of Parkinson’s.
Professor Christopher Dobson from Cambridge University published an article about this discovery in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” and has been investigating the causes of these deformed protein molecules for over 15 years along with his colleagues. Dementia and Alzheimer’s have both become more prevalent in recent generations as human life expectancy gradually increases, thus leading to a greater chance of “genetic malfunctions” in humans.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are considered to be one of the most costly (in terms of healthcare costs) in the UK trumping that of both heart disease and cancer combined. At the moment there are no treatment options available for patients to influence the disease, however the discovery of this molecular trigger is considered to be the first step to developing a drug to suppress the spread of the proteins associated with neuron cell death.
How is Alzheimer’s disease triggered?
In cellular biology, protein molecules are synthesized from ribosomes (cellular assembly lines) which then get joined together to form amino acids that encodes DNA to send messages throughout the body. During this process protein molecules are typically generated in long strands then folded and compressed to generate the amino acids. It is during this process that deformities can occur in the protein molecules which creates abnormal structures called amyloid fibrils. These amyloid fibrils tend to clump together and become protein deposits which was once thought what caused the disease to set in patients with Alzheimers.
The recent discoveries have shown that these amyloid fibrils cause a chain reaction which compounds exponentially creating new areas of focus in a process called “nucleation”. These areas of focus begin creating new tendrils which contain less protein molecules which is what is believed to cause the “toxic oligomers” that kill neurons causing neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsons. With the death of neurons in the patient’s brain memory loss sets in causing symptoms of dementia.
Although the process of treatment is one which is still expected to be many years in the working, chemists and biologists are working together to map out the framework of how this process occurs in order to discover a biomolecular solution to treat disease caused by toxic oligomers. Using this research it could become possible in the near future to figure out a way to turn off this process of toxic agent generation preventing neurological disease like dementia from setting in.Tags: biologists, chemists, pharmaceuticals