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New discovery might show if you'll develop Alzheimer's disease

Ernie Shannon's picture
Increased oligomers may be a marker for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

Scientists have developed a way to measure aggregated beta-amyloid – a protein complex believed to cause nerve cell damage in Alzheimer’s disease.

An international team of researchers is reporting success identifying the neurotoxic amyloid oligomers as the cause for the deterioration of neurons and neurological dysfunctions in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the scientists found increased levels of the oligomers in brain and cerebrospinal fluid samples of Alzheimer’s patients. The results suggest that the oligomers may be a marker for the early diagnosis of the disease. If the method of identifying the protein complex holds true under larger studies, the research could also lead to new drugs directed against aggregated beta-amyloid.

The team of researchers come from Germany, Sweden, and the United States and are led by Dr. Alexander Navarrete Santos of the Research Laboratory at the University of Halle in Wittenberg, Germany. The team analyzed the cerebrospinal fluid of 30 neurological patients, 14 of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

“We found that patients with a greater number of oligomers in the cerebrospinal fluid had a more pronounced disease,” Santos said. “These samples provided from leading academic memory clinics in Germany and Sweden are of the best quality and are highly characterized in order to provide robust and reliable results.”

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Statistics from the Alzheimer World Report in 2011 show that as many as 36 million people suffer from dementia worldwide and that 20 – 25 million of those people have Alzheimer’s disease. With an aging population around the world, those figures could grow to as many as 150 million Alzheimer’s patients by the year 2050. An oligomer is a molecule consisting of a few monomer units, in contrast to a polymer, and one of those molecules is called a dimer. A dimer is basically two conjoined A-beta proteins.

While there is no consensus about the precise method used by oligomers to harm neurons, one theory is that they affect he synapses on neurons that make connections with other neurons which makes it harder for the brain to form new memories and recall old ones.

Scientists involved in the study caution against early assumptions, however. Dr. Oskar Hansson of Lund University in Sweden said more work is required.

“Because of the limited number of samples, further study is needed to confirm the results.” Still, the research team is hopeful. They say that the test might not only be used for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, but could be used when developing new and effective therapies for the disease.

The results of the study will appear in the internationally renowned scientific magazine Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in March 2012. Oskar Hansson (Lund University, Sweden) and Harald Hampel (University of Frankfurt, Germany) as senior authors of the study coordinated and supervised the work of the international research team including Drs. Alexander Navarrete Santos, Michael Ewers, Lennart Minthon, Andreas Simm, Rolf-Edgar Silver, Kaj Blennow, and David Prvulovic.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons