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New Study Shows Progress In Alzheimer's Research

A recently published study found in the eLife journal shows that there is finally news on the possibility of fighting Alzheimer’s. The researchers have found that by regenerating connections that have been damaged in brain cells affected by the disease, memories that have been lost could potentially be restored. This has to do with the newfound ability to manipulate the synapses, rather than the neurons which may be the region where long-term memories are stored. Harvard Medical School states: “As of now there has been no treatment that can halt or even significantly slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. The four drugs currently approved to treat Alzheimer’s—donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne), and memantine (Namenda)—can improve thinking, memory, and behavior. Yet they can’t get at the underlying disease process that leads to the steep cognitive decline.”

The promise of a possible new treatment that could not only stop the disease from progressing but also reassemble some normalcy for patients who are losing pieces of themselves is huge, and has been welcomed with excitement.

Research News

This latest news was announced by David Glanzman, the lead on the study, and a member of the department of Integrative Biology and Physiology and Neurobiology at the University of California-Los Angeles. He has suggested that although this news is exciting, it should only be able to make a difference in patients who are experiencing early symptoms, not those who are farther along in their disease. Medical News Today reports: “Popular belief holds that long-term memories are stored in the synapses – the structures that allow electrical or chemical signals to be sent between brain cells, or neurons. But according to Glanzman and colleagues, their findings indicate this is not the case.”

The research was found by analyzing a creature called the Aplysia, which is a form of sea snail with a molecular and cellular functionality that is very close to that of a human. The scientists were able to restore memories in the snails through the regrowth of synaptic connections that were lost in the past. Short term memories were the only ones affected, while long term connections remained severed, which lead to the belief that the neurons were the controlling factor in these other memories.

Synaptic Growth And How It Helps

The scientific team found the synaptic response by sending electric shocks into the tails of the snails which caused a response in which the creatures released serotonin. This release caused growth in the connections of the synaptic region of the brain that lasted more than two days. The synaptic connections were then studied in a Petri dish, and what they found was amazing, the connections reformed, proving that long term memories could be recreated, although not the same as the short term ones were with human samples. The Daily Mail writes: “Alzheimer’s causes shrinkage of the brain, leading to dementia. It rarely occurs before the age of 60, but 30 per cent of over-85s are affected – some 700,000 people in the UK at any one time.”

Dr. Glanzman explained the treatment by suggesting that if a snail or other animal is unable to produce proteins directly after being given a task or during training, they will forget that training after a twenty-four hour period. Whereas, if a protein synthesis inhibitor is injected into the brain after those twenty-four hours, the long-term memory is still there. This means that once a memory is created, protein synthesis will not destroy the long term memories, and this is true for both this breed of snail, as well as humans.

New Hope For Future Generations

While the findings are still in early stages of development and the likelihood of any treatments being developed in the near future with this data is still a little farfetched, the fact that this experience showed positive results is enough to cause some serious excitement in the medical community. As long as neurons are still alive, the research team has noted that the memories are still alive also. This means that while some memories may be lost, others may be retrievable, and the future for patients and the families of patients suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have a new hope.

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