Possible breakthrough in the battle against Alzheimer's

Over 44 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease - and it is calculated that this number will rise to 75.6 million by 2030 and 135.5 million by 2050. Approximately 750 000 people in South Africa have the disease

Around the world a new case of dementia occurs every 4 seconds and presently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease threatens to bankrupt families, with escalating medication costs and no support to pay for either day-or-full-time care.

According to medical experts, if a person has Alzheimer’s disease, it’s usually the result of a build-up of two types of lesions - amyloid plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles. Amyloid plaques sit between the neurons and end up as dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules, a sticky type of protein that clumps together and forms plaques.

Neurofibrillary tangles are found inside the neurons of the brain, and they’re caused by defective tau proteins that clump up into a thick, insoluble mass. This causes tiny filaments called microtubules to get all twisted, which disrupts the transportation of essential materials such as nutrients and organelles along them, like twisting up a garden hosepipe and water can't flow normally anymore.

Now a team from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at the University of Queensland have come up with what looks like promising solution for removing amyloid plaques.

It involves using a particular type of ultrasound called a focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue. By oscillating super-fast, these sound waves are able to gently open up the blood-brain barrier, which is a layer that protects the brain against bacteria, and stimulate the brain’s microglial cells to activate. Microglila cells are basically waste-removal cells, so they’re able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps that are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The team reports fully restoring the memory function of 75 percent of the mice they tested it on, with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue. They found that the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks - a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.

Kieno Kammies spoke to Prof. Jürgen Götz - the director of the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CJCADR) at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Listen to the full interview below:


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