Are the Tangles and Plaque really “Brain Pearls?”

AARP Magazines Complete Article

About 100 years ago scientist noticed the buildup of plaque in the brain of people who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Since then, research and the resulting medications have been aimed at ridding the brain of these sticky tangles and buildup of plaques as the main culprit causing Alzheimer’s.

Then, in 2004, more scientist discovered that mice in a new study suffered from Dementia symptoms but had no sticky plaque at all, while other scientists were showing that injecting mice with Oligomers did cause memory loss.

In yet another study, a group of scientists decided to turn Oligomers into plaques –since they are both the same protein. “when they did this, the memory got better.”

Gandy and his colleague Michelle Ehrlich, M.D., both professors at Mount Sinai, genetically engineered a new type of mice whose brains produce only Oligomers but never brain plaques. Not only did these new mice lose their memories, but after their deaths the researchers found mice with the worst memory had the highest Oligomer levels.

Oligomers “should be enemy number one,” agrees Rudolph Tanzi, director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, an Alzheimer’s scientist and author of Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Cause for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Now, we have to wonder if the brain may be trying to remove the offending Oligomers by forming plaques. Tanzi goes so far as to call the much-vilified plaques “brain pearls.” He says just as an oyster creates a pearl around a grain of sand to protect itself, plaques may serve as traps for microbes that are infecting the brain. It could also explain the failure of the once-promising Alzhemed drug that discouraged the formation of brain plaques.

Research is being done now, with the hope of new more reliable drugs for Alzheimer’s in the future.

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Review

This sobering review of the current research on and recommendations for Alzheimer’s argues for identifying and combating risk factors decades before symptoms appear. Like other major conditions affected by obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, among others, Alzheimer’s is growing at a rapidly increasing rate. Neurologist Sabbagh has been involved in many important Alzheimer’s research trials and founded the Sun Health Research Institute’s Cleo Roberts Center, a facility for studying age-related diseases, located in the geriatric community–dense Sun City area of Phoenix. He explains the mechanisms by which the brain undergoes devastating changes that manifest as Alzheimer’s; the differences between age-related memory loss, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia; and ways to assess genetic liabilities and risk factors from lifestyle choices. Although treatment goals and expectations for those with Alzheimer’s are modest, Sabbagh says most risk factors can be offset well before retirement age through diet, physical and mental exercise, brain-specific supplements and, in some cases, medications that lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, manage blood sugar and decrease inflammation.

The Alzheimer’s Answer

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