The exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, but one of the leading theories involves the formation of clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid. These damage and kill brain cells, eventually resulting in memory problems and the inability to think clearly. Clearing protein plaques is a major focus of Alzheimer’s research and drugs are already being tested in human clinical trials.
In the body, the role of removing beta-amyloid falls to apolipoprotein E – or ApoE. However, people have different versions of the protein. Having the ApoE4 genetic variant is one of the biggest risk factors for developing the disease.
Scientists at the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio were investigating ways of boosting levels of ApoE, which in theory should reduce levels of beta-amyloid. They tested bexarotene, which has been approved for use to treat cancers in the skin, on mice with an illness similar to Alzheimer’s.
After one dose in young mice, the levels of beta-amyloid in the brain were “rapidly lowered” within six hours and a 25% reduction was sustained for 70 hours. In older mice with established amyloid plaques, seven days of treatment halved the number of plaques in the brain.
Areas to think about:
- Why is this news potentially transformative, from an economic perspective, rather than only in terms of helping those suffering from Alzheimers? Think through some of the potential implications.
- On a more individual level, is it certain that reducing plaque formation will result in an improvement in memory and general cognitive function? What complicating variables might interfere?