Medical breakthrough: Researchers focus in on new method to treat Alzheimer’s

Sep 28, 2019
Clinical trials are being carried out across Australia focusing on the immune system to treat Alzheimer's . Source: Getty

There could be good news on the horizon for people impacted by Alzheimer’s with researchers focusing on a new trigger of the disease in clinical trials across Australia.

Instead of carrying down the path of other scientists attempting to find a cure for the progressive disease which not only destroys memory, but other important mental functions, the effect of the immune system on the brain is being investigated. Speaking to Nine News about the exciting new venture, Professor Malu Tansey from the University of Florida explained as we age the immune system becomes tired and the nerve cells of the brain are not protected as well.

The expert, who travelled to Australia this week to speak out about the current research, said chronic inflammation plays a role in the development of dementia, something which is being tested in current trials in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The new compound, called XPro1595, has been specifically designed to decrease the inflammation in patients who have noticeable peripheral inflammation.

The research has been praised by Alzheimer’s Association’s Chief Science Officer Dr Maria Carrillo who commended the team for looking at new ways of tackling the disease. It is for this reason the association has contributed $1 million to the trials.

“What we’re talking about here is how we can develop different strategies that are not just focused on plaques and tangles, strategies like inflammation,” she told Nine News.  “So we’re excited about being able to talk about these diverse targets.”

This isn’t the only new piece of information around dementia with a recent study revealing researchers believe they’ve developed an eye test that can predict those who are most at risk of developing the memory-robbing disease. Alzheimer’s begins to alter and damage the brain decades before symptoms appear and early diagnosis is key to slowing its progression.

Medication is currently available which can provide temporary improvement in cognitive functioning in those with mild and moderate forms of Alzheimer’s, while other drugs can be prescribed to assist with other symptoms such as restlessness or mental health problems. Therefore, if diagnosed earlier, these medications could help at a much earlier stage.

The study, published in the Neurobiology of Aging Journal, explained that researchers investigating the pathology of Alzheimer’s have been focusing on two major causative and contributory factors of the disease. The first is the accumulation of a protein plaque in the brain called amyloid-beta and the second is tangles of a protein called tau. Both have been linked to damaging and killing neurons in the brain which results in cognitive dysfunction.

For the research, experts focused on how the eyes’ pupils responded to specific neurons in the brain known as locus coeruleus that are involved in cognitive function. The tau protein is the earliest known biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease and first appears in the locus coeruleus. It’s also more strongly associated with cognition than amyloid-beta.

Researchers discovered that the locus coeruleus causes the eyes’ pupils to change diameter during cognitive tasks and a person’s pupils get bigger when a brain task is more difficult. It follows a previous study which found adults with mild cognitive impairment (which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s) also displayed greater pupil dilation than people without cognitive issues. The latest study has also linked pupillary dilation responses with Alzheimer’s disease risk genes.

“Given the evidence linking pupillary responses, locus coeruleus and tau and the association between pupillary response and Alzheimer’s disease polygenic risk scores (an aggregate accounting of factors to determine an individual’s inherited Alzheimer’s disease risk), these results are proof-of-concept that measuring pupillary response during cognitive tasks could be another screening tool to detect Alzheimer’s before symptom appear,” the study’s first author William S. Kremen said in a statement.

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