Due to dedicated researchers and increased funding, the news is often full of encouraging dementia-related discoveries.
All of these mini breakthroughs are adding up, helping scientists piece together exciting clues. After all, sometimes, you need to uncover smaller parts of the puzzle, in order to see the big picture. From preventative measures to possible causes, it’s critical that we stay up-to-date with the latest research.
In turn, this helps us make wiser decisions in our every day life. Just this week, Alzheimer’s research has made headlines once again. This time, based on the atomic structure of a key protein related to this disease. Published in Nature, this study could act as a critical stepping stone.
Study Reveals the Chemical Structure of the Tau Protein
For those who have been directly affected by Alzheimer’s, you know that this is a complex disease. Not only does it affect the diagnosed patient, but everyone else who is close to them. Although it may seem like there’s little hope, the available research is shedding new light on this progressive disease.
Due to advancing technology, now, for the first time, scientists have discovered the chemical structure of abnormal tau protein deposits. These clumps of protein are suspected to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s, in addition to other neurodegenerative conditions.
Although this connection has been clear for quite some time, the way in which these deposits physically harm the brain and how they’re formed to begin with, has been less clear. Now that researchers are able to view this protein at the molecular level, however, this could all change.
Led by the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, researchers extracted tau protein filaments from a deceased patient who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Using a technique known as cryo-electron microscopy, this protein was effectively imaged.
Just to clarify, there are two key proteins associated with Alzheimer’s:
The first is tau protein, which forms inside nerve cells.
The other is amyloid-beta protein, which build up outside of cells.
While focusing on healthy patients, for instance, tau protein acts as a stabilizer. Meaning, they do serve a function, however, when they become defective, this is when they begin to collect in damaging bundles. It’s believed that these tangled filaments reduce communication between neural cells, resulting in neurodegeneration.
Why Is This Such a Breakthrough?
Tau protein has been studied for decades, but up until this point, researchers have not been able to view these filaments up close. When viewing this protein on a molecular level, new potential opportunities open up in terms of possible future drug treatments.
Basically, when researchers better understand a more accurate shape and structure, they can effectively develop and test drugs that in this case, target tau protein filaments.
The goal is to develop a drug that can effectively clear these damaging protein clumps, but in order to do so, it’s imperative that researchers understand how they function.
Although researchers have studied artificial samples in the lab to better understand the function of tau and beta proteins, since this recent sample was taken from a deceased patient, it allowed them to study these abnormal filaments at the atomic level.
This discovery will allow researchers to develop drugs that latch onto the surface of tau protein filaments at the molecular level. In fact, this discovery has been described as a means to a whole new era in this field of research.
The Importance of Early Detection and Intervention
Unfortunately, many patients do not receive an accurate diagnosis until tau and beta amyloid proteins have already collected, causing significant damage. This is when problematic symptoms begin to surface, even though the related damage was likely initiated years prior.
Suggested reading: Is It Alzheimer’s? Understand These Key Warning Signs.
In fact, researchers have shown that signs of Alzheimer’s may be apparent up to 20 years before the first symptoms arise. This can be detected based on:
Less gray matter in parts of the brain that are typically affected by Alzheimer’s.
Greater activation in the hippocampus (as if this area of the brain needs to work harder in order to effectively function on a day-to-day basis).
Elevated beta-amyloid levels are found within the brain, blood and spinal fluid.
Last year, a study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, showcasing a new technology that detects tau protein in relation to human platelets. More specifically, it was able to determine the ratio of abnormal tau and normal tau protein. These types of discoveries are exciting, as non-invasive early detection could potentially improve a patient’s long-term prognosis.
Once detected within the early stages, patients can:
Receive the maximum benefit from current available treatments. These treatments can not only help relieve the severity of certain symptoms, but also allow these individuals to remain independent for longer.
Often participate in clinical trials that not only advance research, but potentially improve their symptoms.
More effectively plan for the future, as they can take part in all living, financial and legal matters. When you have more time to plan, you can also build a more effective social support network and care team.
An Introduction to BrainTest®
For those who are concerned regarding their level of cognitive functioning, there is also a simple and effective test that can be performed at the doctor’s office, or even within the comfort of your home. This simple, accurate tool is known as BrainTest®, which is:
A scientifically-validated app that can help you detect possible early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia and more. Being the digital version of the SAGE test, it can be administered virtually anywhere.
Self-administered, taking approximately 15 minutes to complete.
An assessment of your current cognitive abilities, helping you more accurately discuss your concerns with a physician.
Partnered and engaged with researchers and developer from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
In addition, continue to follow our weekly blog and Knowledge Center, in order to benefit from the latest research, tips and news.