Thursday, December 16, 2010

A New Approach

What if beta-amyloid plaquing isn't the cause of Alzheimer's disease, but merely an accompanying risk factor? If that's the case, then current research on this disease needs to be refocused, according to Karl Herrup, chairman of the department of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University. He has offered an alternative theory, one that really needs to be explored.

From the Los Angeles Times:

He suggests three steps are involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease. First, there is some type of vascular brain injury. This can be a type of physical head trauma that occurred earlier in life, small strokes that occur in old age or other types of vascular injury. Second, the brain responds to this injury with inflammation. However, the normal inflammatory response doesn't shut itself off and becomes chronic and destructive. Finally, the cells of the brain are permanently altered and cannot return to a normal function.

If Herrup's theory is accurate, then prevention and treatment models will change accordingly. Maintaining cardiovascular health becomes significantly more important. Head injuries, however minor, will have to be monitored longer to check on the inflammatory process. And treatment for Alzheimer's will take a slightly different direction:

The hypothesis points to other avenues of research, he said, such as using anti-inflammatory drugs early in the disease process or targeting therapies that would act on the physiological changes in brain cells that occur after long-term inflammation.

Interesting hypothesis. Hopefully it will be tested thoroughly. Even if the theory doesn't pass muster, however, it should lead to some mighty important knowledge about this devastating disease.

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