Chances are that most of us have heard of Alzheimer's disease before, and we may know a family member who suffers from the terrible disease. A startling statistic shows that Alzheimer's is the "fourth leading cause of death for those over 65. By the year 2040 an estimated 14 million will be living with the disease" ().
I personally find Alzheimer's to be a very interesting disease from a medical standpoint not only because it's found most often in older/senior adults, but because it's not caused by and bacteria or virus, but instead a plaque and protein buildup that's made inside the brain. Two or three hypothesis of how Alzheimer's disease originates have come about.
The first hypothesis is that of amyloid plaque. When amyloid is found in large quantities it will undergo a conformational change to accommodate the large number of molecules. However, if there are numerous amyloid's present then this conformation change results in the formation of a plaque which is made up of "mostly insoluble deposits of protein and cellular material outside and around neurons" These massive formations of amyloid are thought to be synthesized and cause a disruption of the brains "calcium ion homeostasis" and thus lead to cell death (which would be why we would see much darker almost completely occluded spots on an MRI of a patient with Alzeheimer's than of a brain scan of a normal brain).
There is another protein located in the brain that has been shown to be a contributor of Alzheimer's Disease. This protein is called "Tau." Tau's main function in a healthy brain is the stabilization of the brains cytoskeleton. However, the hypothesis is that when Tau is over synthesized, or even under-synthesized, as it is in a person with Alzheimer's disease, Tau itself causes a buildup and "tangles" neurons or collapses them. Unfortunately for your brain, this tangling/collapsing causes your neurons not to fire correctly. This improper firing causes the signs/symptoms that are well known with this disease: memory loss, learning, thinking and reasoning disabilities.
Researchers are having a difficult time with advancements on how to treat Alzheimer's disease because our brains are encased in what's called a "Blood Brain Barrier" which allows only very specific hormones and blood regulation through. Recent research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester has biochemists attempting to engineer proteins that will be able to pass through our BBB and attach itself specifically to the amyloid/senile plaque areas so that scientists can image the areas via MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
In time, the Mayo Clinic also hopes it will be able to engineer a vaccine that will cease the amyloid/senile plaques from forming clumps in the brain.
1. Do you know of someone struggling with this terrible disease?
2. Did you find any of this information to be insightful?