Caring Currents

Alzheimer's Breakthrough: What It Can Mean to You Right Now

Last updated: Jun 27, 2008

149047693 d7f3917687.jpg

A little perspective is in order after the latest Alzheimer's news. To be sure, it's a major breakthrough in Alzheimer's research: Scientists have isolated one of the keys to the cause of this awful disease. There are at least three different kinds of beta amyloid, the sticky protein that's known to be a telltale sign of the disease, but only one kind (when injected in rats) caused symptoms of memory loss. It has long puzzled researchers that some autopsied brains are clogged full of beta-amyloid, although the people never showed any sign of the disease.

This two-molecule form of beta-amyloid seemed to impair the synapses -- the communication connections -- within the brain. This discovery may speed the progress of drug-treatment development. It will surely clarify the path of future research.

But the big BUT is summed up by the neuroscience director at the National Institute on Aging (which funded the Harvard-based study):

"A lot of work needs to be done. Nature keeps sending us down paths that look straight at the beginning, but there are a lot of curves before we get to the end."

However, here's a nugget that's useful right now: The critical beta-amyloid injected in the rats for the test came from the brains of people who had donated their bodies to science. if your parent is still cognizant enough to make such a decision, that's a wonderful (free) way to further the battle against Alzheimer's...another thing to you might put on the table when you finally get around to having "The Talk" about end-of-life wishes. Or maybe you'd consider doing so yourself?

Brain coral image by Flickr user lazlo-photo, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.