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New ways to detect and treat Alzheimer's disease

Specific brain changes suggest new diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets

New studies identify brain changes in people with Alzheimer's disease. The results give researchers a greater understanding of the disease and may help at-risk individuals by improving early detection.

New animal research also shows a novel approach to Alzheimer's vaccine design that may avoid dangerous side effects. These new results were reported at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news on brain science and health.

About 5.3 million people have Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. With the aging baby boomer population, Alzheimer's will continue to affect more people worldwide. Better diagnostic techniques may help identify the disease at earlier, potentially more treatable stages.

Today's new findings show that:

People with Alzheimer's disease show structural changes in the caudate nucleus, a brain structure typically associated with movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, suggesting that the disease produces broader damage in the brain than previously thought (Sarah Madsen, abstract 348.4, see attached summary).

People at risk for Alzheimer's disease exhibit a structural change in portions of the cerebral cortex, which is largely responsible for reasoning, memory and other "higher function" tasks. The findings may help identify those who would most benefit from early intervention (Sarah George, abstract 756.9, see attached summary).

A new vaccine, which was tested in mice, could protect against memory problems associated with Alzheimer's disease without potentially dangerous side effects. The vaccine targeted a non-human protein that may make it a safer alternative to previous vaccine approaches that caused inflammation in human clinical trials (Charles Glabe, PhD, abstract 725.6, see attached summary).

Too many small aggregates of a protein called tau in the brain can directly interfere with memory, according to new animal research. The findings are important because they suggest that tau may be a good target for developing therapies against Alzheimer's and related diseases (Ottavio Arancio, MD, PhD, abstract 527.8, see attached summary).

"Identifying those at risk for Alzheimer's and developing new treatments for nervous system disorders is a social imperative," said press conference moderator Sam Sisodia, PhD, of the University of Chicago, an expert on the cellular biology of proteins implicated in Alzheimer's disease. "These studies are evidence that we're making real progress to overcome this tragic epidemic."

This research was supported by national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.

Kat Snodgrass | EurekAlert!
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