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Brain in a Dish – The Future of Alzheimer’s Research

Brain in a Dish – The Future of Alzheimer’s Research

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is estimated to affect 5.3 million people of all ages in the United States today. The biggest impact is on those aged 65 or older, accounting for 96% of all Alzheimer’s cases. That’s one in every three seniors, of which over two-thirds are women. While so many are living with the disease, only about 45 percent know it. On the other hand, about 90 percent of the more than 15 million Americans living with cancer are properly diagnosed.

 

Challenges

It’s impossible to be treated for a disease you don’t know you have. With a new case developing every 67 seconds and no currently available FDA-approved treatment options that have proven to slow or reverse the disease, the prospect of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is frightening. That’s why researchers continue to work diligently toward understanding this sixth-leading cause of American deaths.

Since the discovery of the disease in 1906, Alzheimer’s researchers conducting pre-trial experiments only had mice to work with. However, this disease is particularly human-specific, so the disease developed in the mice is an imperfect model for testing. This led to complications in the data and setbacks in the development of new treatments.

 

One Small Step for Two Neuroscientists, One Giant Leap for Alzheimer’s Research

As publicized in October 2014, neuroscientists Rudolph Tanzi and Doo Yeon Kim of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston may have found a way around the mouse problem. The two researchers managed to culture human brain cells, or neurons, in a commercially-available stem-cell gel in a petri dish, wherein they formed actual neural networks. Moreover, when introduced to Alzheimer’s-causing genes, the cells responded exactly as those in a live human brain, forming the two defining features of the disease: plaques, like clumpy Brillo-pads, and tangles, like little bowls of spaghetti.

The petri dish model isn’t perfect. Real human brains have defense mechanisms like immune system cells that have yet to be introduced in Kim and Tanzi’s research. However, this model is the first ever to allow human Alzheimer’s research without the cost and ethical limitations of human clinical trials. Moreover, the lack of immune systems cells is not necessarily a bad thing, as it models the brain of a person with an immune system weakened by age or other diseases.

Tanzi has plans to test over 1,200 drugs currently on the market and 5,000 still in development. He and his colleagues are also using the petri dish model to investigate the protein responsible for plaque formation, which they believe to be beta-amyloid. The big picture is clear: any drug that could potentially prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s in humans can now fully prove its effectiveness in humans.

 

To learn more about Alzheimer’s treatment, please contact KCA Neurology. 615.550.1800.

 

What Is Dementia and How Is It Diagnosed?

What Is Dementia and How Is It Diagnosed?

Age-related conditions, particularly those impacting cognitive abilities, are poorly understood by the general public, which can lead to anxiety and misconceptions about the condition. It is important to understand how to identify the symptoms of dementia in order to get the best treatment from your physician.

Dementia is not a specific condition, it is a “catch-all” term for any condition in which mental ability has declined enough to interfere with the functions of daily life. Dementia is often caused by Alzheimer’s disease, though not always.

 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Memory loss is just one example of the symptoms associated with dementia. However, simple forgetfulness or absent-minded behaviors are not enough to warrant a diagnosis of dementia. True memory loss means being unable to recognize immediate family members or close friends, forgetting where one is or how to get home, and other debilitating memory loss problems.

Furthermore, many people still hold the misconception that serious mental decline is a normal part of the aging process. This is not true, and if you or a loved one experience serious impairment in any two of the following mental functions, contact a physician immediately:

  • Language and communication
  • Focus and ability to maintain attention
  • Visual perception
  • Judgment and reasoning
  • Memory

Dementia is often depicted as inevitable or untreatable, which could not be further from the truth.

 

Treating Dementia

If identified in the beginning stages, dementia is treatable and sometimes reversible. Speak to a neurologist about the causes of your dementia and how to treat them. Some examples of effective treatments are:

  • Taking an inventory of medications currently being taken, some may lead to memory loss or confusion, especially in older patients
  • Treating an infection such as encephalitis
  • Anti-depressants sometimes help, as depression is sometimes misdiagnosed as dementia in older patients
  • Removal of a brain tumor or other ways to reduce pressure on the brain
  • Thyroid hormones are effective in treating hypothyroidism
  • A B12 deficiency could be the culprit; taking vitamin supplements may help

In some cases, the causes of dementia in a particular patient may be untreatable. In this case, it is important to research palliative care options. Many associate palliative care with end of life services, but it is also designed to improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers.

Work with your neurologist and palliative care providers to create a care plan. A diagnosis of dementia can lead to unbearable anxiety, fear, or even anger. Home care and maintaining independence for the patient are ways to ease the transition into a new lifestyle.

 

Contact one of the professionals at KCA Neurology to find out how we can help treat dementia you or a loved one may experience.