Scientists reverse effects of Alzheimer's disease for the first time

A build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain has linked to the the development of Alzheimer's. Source: Getty

Scientists have successfully reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease by cutting the levels of a key enzyme in the animals’ brains.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that slowing cutting levels of an enzyme called BACE1 in the mice as they got older either stopped or undid the formulation of amyloid plaques in their brains. The plaques have been thought for some time to play a key role in the degenerative disease, with Alzheimer’s patients showing higher levels of the plaque in their brain than people without Alzheimer’s.

Tests on the mice subsequently show that their cognitive processes improved as the plaques were removed from their brains. But the researchers also noted that cutting the enzyme BACE1 and thus reducing the plaque levels did have another side-effects, including hyperactivity, depression and muscle defects, and cautioned that BACE1 itself was needed to optimal cognitive function.

That said, they were optimistic that the finding could lead to useful treatments for humans with or at risk of developing Alzheimer’s “To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that amyloid plaques can be completely reversed by gradual deletion of BACE1 beginning in early developmental stages,” they wrote.

Read more about dementia here and Alzheimer’s diseases here.

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“More importantly, the reversal of amyloid deposition in this AD mouse model significantly reduced neuronal loss, and cognitive functions were improved. Hence, this knowledge provides a strong foundation for the concept that BACE1 inhibitors should be administered to humans as early as possible to prevent or reverse amyloid deposition.”

Richard Isaacson, the director of the Alzheimer’s  Prevention Clinic in New York, told Newsweek that the study was promising but it would take up to seven years for its impact for humans to become more clear.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, with no known cure. Only in January the global pharma giant Pfizer called off its research into the disease after repeatedly failing to find a cure, disappointing the almost 47 million people around the world who live with it.

It’s not even confirmed that amyloid plaques are indeed key to the condition. About a third of people in their 70s have an excess of the plaque in their brain but not all lose their cognitive abilities at the same speed, indicating that another factor may be involved.

Australian scientists are currently looking at whether iron is that important factor.

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