A major breakthrough in understanding Alzheimer’s disease by Irish scientists could lead to new forms of therapy for those living with the condition.
Trinity College Dublin scientists have discovered a new mechanism in the disease — the most common form of dementia that affects up to 40,000 people in this country.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterised, in part, by the build up of toxic material in the brain called amyloid-beta.
The small protein can get out of the brain in healthy individuals and the Trinity College Dublin scientists have discovered a novel pathway.
Impaired clearance of the protein appears to be a major factor in the disease process.
Unlike blood vessels anywhere else in the body, those in the brain have properties that strictly regulate what gets in and out of the delicate tissue — its known as the blood brain barrier.
While the mode by which amyloid-betta is cleared remains unclear, it is evident that it needs to be removed from the brain via the bloodstream.
Research assistant professor in genetics at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Matthew Campbell, said cells lining the blood vessels had junctions holding them tightly together.
“We discovered that amyloid-beta could move between the junctions. If we can find ways of removing this toxic material in Alzheimer patients, it could lead to a novel way of developing drugs for the disease,” he said.
Antibody drugs that latch onto amyloid-beta have so far failed to work very well but Dr Campbell believes the newly-discovered mechanism could make them work better.
“Given the recent advances in clinical trials of anti-amyloid beta antibodies, we hope our findings may lead to improved and adjunctive forms of therapy for this devastating condition.”
Dr Campbell said it was impossible to say when a new therapy might be available and pointed out that the Trinity College Dublin research was based on mice studies.
Dr Campbell said that amyloid-beta needed to be targeted as early as possible to stop the neuro-degenerative disease in its tracks.
“Designing clinical trials to identify individuals before they have symptoms is the only way we are going to be able to treat Alzheimer’s disease in the future.”
The research, published in the leading international journal, Science Advances, was supported by Science Foundation Ireland as well as the US-based charity, Brightfocus Foundation.
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