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New Chemical Approach to Treat Alzheimer's

Teresa Tanoos's picture
New chemical method discovered for treating Alzheimer's

Researchers have developed a new chemical method to treat Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published May 29, 2013 in Chemistry - A European Journal.

The new chemical approach was developed by scientists at the University of Liverpool and Callaghan Innovation in New Zealand to help harness the natural ability of complex sugars to treat Alzheimer's disease.

It works by producing a library of sugars, called heparan sulphates, which are known to control the formation of the proteins in the brain that cause memory loss. Heparan sulphates are similar to the natural blood-thinning drug, heparin, and are found in nearly every cell of the body – and now researchers have discovered how to produce them chemically in the lab.

The researchers also found that some of these sugars can inhibit an enzyme that creates small proteins in the brain. These proteins, called amyloid, mess up the normal function of cells, leading to the progressive memory loss experienced by those with Alzheimer's disease.

"We are targeting an enzyme, called BACE, which is responsible for creating the amyloid protein. The amyloid builds up in the brain in Alzheimer's disease and causes damage. BACE has proved to be a difficult enzyme to block despite lots of efforts by drug companies," said Professor Jerry Turnbull from the University's Institute of Integrative Biology.

"We are using a new approach, harnessing the natural ability of sugars, based on the blood-thinning drug heparin, to block the action of BACE," Turnbull explained.

"We have developed new chemical methods that have allowed us to make the largest set of these sugars produced to date. These new compounds will now be tested to identify those with the best activity and fewest possible side effects, as these have potential for development into a drug treatment that targets the underlying cause of this disease," added Dr. Peter Tyler from Callaghan Innovation.

Existing drugs for Alzheimer’s on the market today only treat symptoms. They do not treat the underlying disease.

One in eight Americans 60 years old and over report deteriorating memory loss, according to a recent government study. And it’s the youngest of the boomer generation that are most concerned, as are others who raise concerns over the possibility of a future Alzheimer’s “crisis” as baby boomers get older.

The study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed a survey of 59,000 people in 21 states, and they found that nearly 13 percent of the baby boomer generation reported increased confusion or memory loss over the past year, which was getting worse over time. Indeed, one-third of those same boomers reported confusion or memory loss so severe that it interfered with their daily functioning at work, home, and in their social life.

Click here to find out the average lifespan of adults after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Below are the Top Ten Warning Signs from the Alzheimer’s Organization:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure

4. Confusion with time or place

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

8. Decreased or poor judgment

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities

10. Changes in mood and personality

SOURCE: 1. University of Liverpool (2013, May 29). New chemical approach to treat Alzheimer's. Chemistry - A European Journal, 2013; 19 (21): 6817 DOI: 10.1002/chem.201204519. 2. Alzheimer’s Organization, Top Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s