Those of us who follow the latest research in Alzheimer’s disease are all too familiar with the troublesome amyloid plaques thought to be linked to Alzheimer’s. But could it possibly be that those plaques are actually helpful and could lead to an Alzheimer’s cure?
Neuroscientists Rudolph Tanzi and Robert Moir, of Harvard’s largest teaching hospital, Massachusetts General, are turning research upside down with their latest findings. They’re proposing that amyloid-beta is actually a beneficial part of our immunity, with the task of protecting the brain from foreign cells; much in the way, an oyster develops a pearl, for self-defense. As Moir describes, “Maybe amyloid plaques are a brain pearl, a way for our body to trap and permanently sequester these invading pathogens.”
Amyloid-beta, traditionally seen as our enemy, now becomes our immune system’s friend and ally. The problem rests in an accumulation of the plaques that can then impact flourishing brain cells, indicating Alzheimer’s disease.
Although it took years to achieve results, they were well worth the wait. Not only were researchers able to demonstrate the virus and bacteria-killing ability of amyloids in a test tube, but the same results were realized when tested in animal models. It is important to take note that mice producing amyloids were protected against diseases such as encephalitis and meningitis, while mice lacking amyloids died within a short period of time.
There are several theories yet to be explored to explain what’s causing overproduction of the amyloid plaques; the immune system could be attacking healthy cells in the brain, similar to other autoimmune disorders. Or, it could be the result of an overreaction to a virus or bacteria that enter the brain. Once the cause is isolated, it could potentially provide medical professionals with the answers as to how to halt the process in the early stages and prevent resulting dementia.
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