Could clearing cluttered brain cells be key to advancing Alzheimer's treatment?

Scientists find potential cause of disease with fasting and exercise offering potential treatments

An MRI image of a healthy brain (L) and an Alzheimer's brain with large black gaps where shrinkage has set in. AFP
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Brain cells unable to clean themselves and function correctly could be a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease, rather than vessels blocked with plaque as previously thought.

The condition is usually diagnosed by doctors if they find a patient has a combination of amyloid plaque and DNA tangles in the brain that are crucial for healthy cognitive function.

Although the exact cause of Alzheimer's is still to be fully understood, a prevailing theory involves the formation of protein called beta-amyloid which destroy brain cells and leads to cognitive problems such as memory loss and an inability to think clearly.

Research by the University of California Riverside, however, found about a fifth of patients with plaque had no sign of dementia to offer a new theory towards an alternative cause of the condition.

“Roughly 20 per cent of people have the plaques, but no signs of dementia,” said UCR chemistry professor Ryan Julian.

“This makes it seem as though the plaques themselves are not the cause.”

The UCR findings led scientists to look at ‘tau’ proteins in brain samples of dementia patients.

They wanted to understand why the damaged brains failed to clear out defective proteins as usual, leading to Alzheimer’s disease, a process called autophagy.

Study results have been published in the scientific magazine, the Journal of Proteome Research.

The revelation could have a huge impact on related research.

While it is already known autophagy slows in those over 65, it is not clear why.

But drugs used for cardiovascular disease already exist to slow down the process and delay the onset of symptoms.

Fasting can also induce autophagy, as when cells lose proteins usually gleaned from someone’s diet, they compensate by recycling proteins already present in cells.

Exercise has also been found to increase autophagy, lending weight to the theory that healthy living could help preserve mental function.

“If a slowdown in autophagy is the underlying cause, things that increase it should have the beneficial, opposite effect,” said Prof Julian.

UAE supports efforts to halt mental decline

In October, the UAE became only the second country to sign up for a new brain-boosting drug used to treat the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Produced by US firm Biogen, injectable Aduhelm is suitable for the over 65s most at risk from the condition, and can help those with early signs and symptoms of the condition, such as brain fog, memory loss and confusion.

Meanwhile, a Dubai health clinic is carrying out therapies to help delay the ageing process and rebuild tissue to halt mental decline, doctors have said.

Treatments at Aviv Clinic have improved mental alertness and physical performance and could be used to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Treatment includes oxygen therapy sessions where patients are confined to a hyperbaric chamber.

Updated: December 01, 2021, 2:41 AM