Scientists believe they’ve found a way to reverse the damage to cognitive function caused by Alzheimer’s disease — a potential landmark treatment for a disease afflicting 35 million people worldwide.
(CN) — New research suggests the crippling consequences of Alzheimer’s disease — once thought to be irreversible — could be treated with unique synthetic drugs designed to help the brain process proteins.
Of the countless afflictions that doctors and experts around the world labor to better understand, few are as complex as Alzheimer’s disease. With nearly 35 million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s worldwide, the crippling disease has long been the focus of researchers seeking to uncover new potential treatments and medical strategies to turn the tide on an illness that so far has no cure.
While a cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, a team of neuroscientists from New York and Brazil report they may have found a new pathway towards repairing some of the damage caused by the disease.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal Science Signaling, researchers report that, through a series of memory experiments with mice, they have discovered special pharmaceuticals targeting protein synthesis in the brain could help to restore some of the cognitive function lost or hindered by Alzheimer’s disease.
“This work is the first to show that reversing impaired protein synthesis in brains afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease through a pharmacological approach is not only feasible, but also effective,” Mauricio Martins-Oliveira, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at New York University’s Center for Neural Science, said with the release of the study.
Experts say the basis for their findings rests in the reality that when it comes to the formation and management of memories inside the brain, few things are as important as the brain’s ability to synthesize the right proteins. This process allows the brain to maintain strong enough neural activity to keep memories healthy, but those suffering from Alzheimer’s have a much more difficult time creating those crucial proteins.
Scientists, therefore, arrived at a simple question: if they could find a way to jumpstart the brain’s ability to make those proteins once again, could the cognitive function lost to Alzheimer’s be brought back from the brink?
To test this idea, researchers looked to the regenerative properties found within the molecule known as ISRIB. Discovered in 2013, ISRIB is a synthetic compound that can interact with genetic codes in the brain to help boost protein synthesis in certain brain cells. Researchers then used this compound in a relatively straightforward experiment involving test mice with Alzheimer’s-like conditions to determine if ISRIB reversed their memory impairments.
After putting the mice through a series of memory tests and challenges, such as by having them successfully navigate a maze or recognize a unique object they were exposed to hours before, researchers found ISRIB had a profound impact on the mice. On top of jumpstarting protein synthesis in the mice brains, researchers also observed the synthetic compound brought about drastic memory and cognitive improvements in the treated mice.
Researchers found the results were consistent across mice with ranging degrees of disease severity, with even the more advanced cases of Alzheimer’s-like conditions being successfully improved by ISRIB.
The study reports that with the majority of Alzheimer’s treatments focusing on the more physical phenomena that come with the disease — such as brain inflammation — these results could offer up a brand new avenue of treatment for those afflicted.
Eric Klann, co-senior author on the study and professor at NYU’s Center for Neural Science, said that while treatment options for a disease as complicated as Alzheimer’s prove difficult to fully develop, researchers hope their results will act a powerful new tool in the fight against one of the world’s most devastating diseases.
“Given the complex nature of Alzheimer’s disease, identifying and targeting abnormal molecular pathways that effectively improve cognition has been challenging,” Klann said. “Our findings show that jump-starting protein synthesis in the brain can revive lost cognitive functions. We hope that this work can serve as a step forward in treating this devastating disease.”