Global Technology - February 2011

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Now let’s turn to the most important breakthroughs in technology.  We’ll begin with a significant advance in research on Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts more than 5 million Americans.

According to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists have discovered what causes the synapses in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients to break down.  This could lead the way to effective new treatments for the disease.

Previous studies have demonstrated that the dementia that is the most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is caused by a severe weakening in the synapses, though the reason for it remained a mystery.  As a result, scientists and pharmaceutical companies have spent decades trying to find ways to prevent or treat the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are believed to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease. 

Now, the new study by Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, or BRNI reveals that the synapses are lost in Alzheimer’s disease before the amyloid plaques and tangles develop.  It also shows that using synaptogenic compounds can be an effective way to keep the disease from worsening by preventing the loss of synapses.
The BRNI study focused on mice that were genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s disease.  The researchers put them through a difficult training regimen that revealed that the brain functions of the mice were deteriorating five months before any plaques were detected in their brains.  This suggests that plaques and tangles are not the real cause of the disease.
Even better, the study showed that a new treatment that has been proven effective in patients with brain injuries and stroke can also help early-stage Alzheimer’s patients.  The researchers treated the mice with Bryostatin and similar compounds that target a specific enzyme that controls the creation of synapses at the molecular level.

The compounds not only promoted the growth of new synapses and preservation of existing synapses, but they also stopped the decrease of the enzyme and the increase of soluble β amyloid.  This suggests that the treatments could be used to prevent the plaques and tangles from forming.

BRNI has been approved to...

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