Scientists at Cambridge University’s Department of Chemistry believe they might have found a key which could help lead to an earlier diagnosis of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These scientists have attempted to map the pathway which creates the “aberrant” proteins at the root of such conditions. This research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, could prove useful in the work to try and combat the dementia-related diseases.
Dr. Tuomas Knowles, lead author of the study, said: “There are no disease modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s and dementia at the moment, only limited treatment for symptoms. We have to solve what happens at the molecular level before we can progress and have real impact. We’ve now established the pathway that shows how the toxic species that cause cell death – the oligomers – are formed. This is the key pathway to detect, target and intervene – the molecular catalyst that underlies the pathology.”
This new research looks at how these oligomers, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease are formed. The oligomers are small enough to be able to spread easily around the brain, killing neurons. The research showed that once a small but critical level of malfunctioning protein clumps form, a chain reaction is triggered that multiplies the number of these protein composites. They found that this process then creates a batch of clusters initially containing a few protein molecules. The researchers note: “Small and highly diffusible, these are the ‘toxic oligomers’ that careen dangerously around the brain cells, killing neurons and ultimately causing loss of memory and other symptoms of dementia.”
Continual research is still required, however Dr. Knowles does claim that years spent developing research techniques are beginning to pay off. The research team is starting to solve “some of the key mysteries” of these neurodegenerative diseases.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net