What progess has been made in devising ways of breaking up amyloid beta protein in Alzheimer's patients?
Kat Arney put this question to Ginny Smith...
Ginny - Well. It's quite a difficult question because, actually, we still don't fully understand what causes Alzheimer's. Now Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia but it is only one form of dementia - there are other types. These are brain diseases which cause problems with thinking, memory, and often all sorts of other areas, including language. One of the long running theories is that what's causing Alzheimer's is a buildup of protein in the brain, called beta amyloid, and you can actually see sort of lumps of this in the brain of people with Alzheimer's
Kat - They're kind of tangles and plaques and things like this aren't they?
Ginny - Exactly, yes. And so a lot of the research has been looking into whether you can break those down. The theory being, if they're what causes it then breaking it down should improve people, and some mouse studies have shown improvements when they've broken down these plaques and tangles. But, interestingly, research that has been coming out recently has shown that in humans, breaking these down doesn't always improve people's symptoms, and you can also get some people who don't have any symptoms, but when you look at their brains, they do have these buildups of these proteins in them. So now people are starting to think, well actually, may it's not a direct 'cause and effects' thing with these proteins and perhaps we should be looking in kind of other directions for potential treatments. So, at the moment, there are a few drugs which can help with the symptoms but we don't have anything that stops the progress of the disease but there's a huge amount of work being poured into trying.
Kat - Because I know from the genetics perspective, lots of people are hunting for the genes involved in Alzheimer's and the problem being, you know, there's lots of different types of dementia and, even if you can find a gene or a gene variation that increases the risk, we don't know if there's anything we can do about it to mitigate it. That, I guess, is the biggest problem, isn't it?
Ginny - There is a little bit of research that's coming out that's quite interesting about what you can do throughout your life to keep you brain healthy and, hopefully, stave off Alzheimer's. And that's things like keeping active, lots of exercise, keeping social interactions going, keeping you brain active...
Kat - Doing things like Sudoku and puzzles and, I guess, listening to The Naked Scientists can keep you brain active...
Ginny - Yes, exactly. And also social interactions, so seeing people and talking to people seems to be protective. And what you eat is also important as well, so lots of green veg, berries, nuts, olive oil - all of these things have been shown to help keep your brain healthy.