Three scientists won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on discovering cells in the brain that act as the body’s internal global positioning system, which opens a window to new Alzheimer’s research. When diagnosed with dementia, these cells are the first to go, which explains why patients eventually lose their way, but understanding how they are degraded will shed light on the process of the disease.
“We’re now setting up to do much more high-tech studies where we hope to follow the progression of disease over time,” said researcher John O’Keefe, winner of the 2014 prize alongside Norwegians May-Britt and Edvard Moser. “This will give us the first handle as to when and where the disease starts and how we can attack it at the molecular and cellular level.”
While this research will not present immediate breakthroughs, it will help explain how cells function, and then fail to function, in two very specific regions of the brain that are vital to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This research dates back 40 years, but recently researchers have developed means of studying the brain circuits that O’Keefe will put to good use at the Sainsbury Welcome Center for Neural Circuits and Behavior at University College London, where he is the director.
“It’s a very exciting time,” O’Keefe said. “We all know there is a time bomb there. We are starting to get a handle on it but that doesn’t mean it is going to turn into a cure in the immediate future.”