An Alzheimer’s Breakthrough

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMarch 14, 2016

Researchers have successfully recreated the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. Created in a petri dish, researchers are hopeful their discovery will lead to greater insight into how the disease develops and ultimately shed light on a prevention and treatment to stop the progression of the disease.

Learn more about this Alzheimer’s breakthrough.

Recreating the Pathology of Alzheimer’s

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have recreated the pathology of Alzheimer’s in a petri dish. The study spanned several years and brought many false starts, but researchers were finally successful, creating a hospitable environment for the growth of cells.

Researchers Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D., and Doo Yeon Kim, Ph.D., hope their discovery will allow scientists a never-before-seen glimpse into how Alzheimer’s develops. “We’ve never had a true model of Alzheimer’s before. Prior to this, we’ve used mice, but when you use mice, you only get parts of the disease — you don’t get the whole continuum of the pathology,” Dr. Tanzi says.

From their findings, researchers have gained proof of how Alzheimer’s develops and hope for improved drug testing. They hope to soon see a shift in Alzheimer’s treatment methods.

Implications of an Alzheimer’s Breakthrough

Watching the progression of Alzheimer’s has provided proof that amyloid plaques in the brain, lead to brain tangles. The brain tangles cause neurons to die and then the tangles spread. Dr. Tanzi said, “We now know that beta-amyloid is the match and tangles are the fire that keeps spreading through the brain, causing damage.”

Seeing how Alzheimer’s progresses may also lead to improved drug testing. Prior to this discovery, researchers used mice to to test the effectiveness of Alzheimer’s drugs and it would take roughly a year to test a potential drug on an affected mouse. Dr. Tanzi stated, “Now we have a model for drug screening that’s ten times faster and ten times cheaper.” Researchers plan to test some of the 1,200 drugs that are on the market for Alzheimer’s treatment as well as 5,000 experimental drugs.

Encouraged by recent findings, Dr Tanzi believes that drugs will soon be available to stop the development of amyloid and tangles years before they develop in the brain.

“It’s a paradigm shift in Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Tanzi says. “We don’t want to wait until you have symptoms because by then the disease has already begun… you have to treat amyloid 20 years before the symptoms — just like someone with high cholesterol treats the disease before the heart attack occurs.”

Their Alzheimer’s breakthrough will hopefully pave the way for future drug treatments and better research methods. What do you think about the new discovery and how it will impact future research? 

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