Timing: It’s what makes Alzheimer’s disease so difficult to treat.
The only way doctors can know if a patient is suffering from the brain wasting condition is if he or she starts suffering from cognitive and memory problems – but by that point, the brain has already been significantly damaged. But now, a new test may be able to spot Alzheimer’s years before the onset of clinical symptoms, giving physicians much more time to save the brain’s neurons from destruction.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston have developed a new method that can detect tiny, misfolded protein fragments floating in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients. These fragments – called amyloid beta (Aβ) oligomers – have been implicated as the main culprit in Alzheimer’s disease. According to lead researcher Claudio Soto, Aβ oligomers are precursors to the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain – the main hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
“What happens is this amyloid protein – a normal protein we all have that circulates in our fluids – starts to change,” Soto, a professor in the department of neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told FoxNews.com. “And it makes this protein more prone to interact and aggregate, binding to other amyloid proteins and forming small oligomers; those are proteins bound together – around five, 20 or 50 units of the protein bound together. These oligomers are moving around the cells in the brain… and are dumped into the spinal fluid.”
As time passes, the Aβ oligomers continue to grow larger by incorporating more units of amyloid protein. Eventually they become too massive and stick in the brain, forming big clumps of amyloid plaques and leading to signs of dementia. Soto noted that these oligomers could be circulating within the brain and spinal fluid years – if not decades – before Alzheimer’s symptoms begin. READ MORE.