A major breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s was recently announced by researchers at Duke University. Researchers observed immune cells that normally protect the brain go rogue and begin to consume a vital nutrient called arginine.
Using a drug that blocks the negative response to arginine, the research team discovered they were able to prevent the formation of ‘plaques’ in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Important to note, however, is that the study did not prove or even suggest that people could prevent Alzheimer’s disease by taking arginine supplements. The blood brain barrier determines how much arginine can enter the brain, and the problem lies not in a lack of arginine, but in the enzyme arginase breaking down the arginine that is present.
Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK told Daily Mail, that, “Current research suggests that the best way to maintain a healthy brain throughout life is to ensure a balanced diet, not smoke, keep mentally and physically active and exercise regularly, and to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”
This treatment, though in its very early research stages, seems especially promising because it prevents plaques from forming entirely, rather than trying to slow their development. This research also is the first to link a dysfunction in the immune system to Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research had focused on the role of amyloid, the protein that builds up in the brain to form plaques.
This discovery changes the very mindset of how Alzheimer’s should be thought of and what strategies could be used in treatment.
Carol Colton, professor of neurology at the Duke University, and senior author of the new study, said to The Independent, “We see this study opening the doors to thinking about Alzheimer’s in a completely different way, to break the stalemate of ideas in Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “The field has been driven by amyloid for the past 15, 20 years and we have to look at other things because we still do not understand the mechanism of disease or how to develop effective therapeutics.”
Breakthroughs like this can happen at any moment. The biggest thing holding back Alzheimer’s research is a lack of funds.
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