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A Possible Alzheimer’s Cure

A Possible Alzheimer’s Cure
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BY KITT WALSH

Every one of us has something about old age that they fear. For men, it is often prostate cancer and loss of potency. For women, it could be the broken bones of osteoporosis. For me, it’s Alzheimer’s.

I have an irrational fear of “the long goodbye” and therefore comb the medical information I get sent as a professional writer, searching for a ray of hope that might mean the researchers are finally on the trail of a cure for this incurable disease.

Recently a message arrived in my Inbox that might just offer that hope. I pass the news along to all of you, my contemporaries, looking at the last third of our lives or for those of us who already have parents suffering from this disease, with fingers securely crossed.

University of Queensland researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia have discovered an innovative drug-free approach that breaks apart the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that result in memory loss and cognitive decline—the double edged sword of Alzheimer’s.

The Queensland Government invested $9 million into the technology to increase research and it looks as though the investment paid off.

QBI Founding Director, Professor Perry Bartlett said the discovery – a result of “game-changing” work performed at the Queensland Brain Institute’s Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research– was made possible through the support of the State and Federal Governments and philanthropic support led by the Clem Jones Foundation.

“The farsighted investment of government and philanthropic partners has allowed us to build the research excellence and capacity required to make major discoveries such as this,” Professor Perry Bartlett says.

“I believe the work opens up an entirely novel avenue for future therapeutic treatment.”

Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research Director Professor Jürgen Götz says.

The new treatment method could revolutionize Alzheimer’s treatment by actually restoring memory. The method doesn’t even use drugs!

“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics,” Professor Götz said. “The ultrasound waves oscillate tremendously quickly, activating microglial cells that digest and remove the amyloid plaques that destroy brain synapses.”

There is, as my scientist son points out about medical research, “many a slip twixt the cup and the lip” and the research was carried out on mice—which my son points out are not human and have different brains. “We have no real idea what these sound waves may do to a human cerebral cortex,” he points out, but to say the findings are hopeful is to put it mildly.

“The word ‘breakthrough’ is often mis-used,” Professor Götz says, “but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease…this method uses relatively inexpensive ultrasound and microbubble technology which is non-invasive and appears highly effective.”

The approach is able to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, activating mechanisms that clear toxic protein clumps and restore memory functions.

“With our approach the blood-brain barrier’s opening is only temporary for a few hours, so it quickly restores its protective role,” Professor Götz says.

Research has been conducted using mice with an Alzheimer’s model and the results were stunning.

“This treatment restored memory function to the same level of normal healthy mice,” Professor Götz says.

Read that again, folks. It not only stopped the disease’s progress, but also restored memory!

“We’re also working on seeing whether this method clears toxic protein aggregates in neurodegenerative diseases other than Alzheimer’s and whether this also restores executive functions, including decision-making and motor control,” the professor continued.

The next step is to scale the research in higher animal models, ahead of human clinical trials, which are set to begin in 2017.

It is a brave new world, that much is true, and to all who have lived with the nightmare of a loved one who has slipped away while still alive or who fears such a future for him or herself, this news is heartening.

To read the findings of the research in its entirety, the report “Scanning ultrasound efficiently removes amyloid-β and restores memory in an Alzheimer’s model”, is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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