Mary Ann Malack-Ragona, Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, Alzheimer's Association Long Island, says recent findings from two independent studies showing how Alzheimer's disease spreads throughout the brain are an indication that researchers may be one step closer to finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Two studies - one from Columbia University and another from Harvard University - involved genetically engineered mice that were able to produce abnormal human tau proteins in the enthorhinal cortex, which is located behind the ears and toward the middle of the brain. In Alzheimer's disease, the cells start dying in the middle of the brain. Researchers found what was expected: that tau was found where the dead cells were, and the dying cells in the mice's enthorhinal cortex were filled with bundled strands of tau.
The studies further showed that tau was transmitted from cell to cell, leaving dead cells in its wake. Since the other cells in that neural network were unable to produce the human tau protein, the only way they could get the protein was to transmit it to every nerve cell in the network. Although the study involved mice, the researchers said the pattern of cell death was similar to what they see in people with Alzheimer's disease. They concluded that the best solution to prevent cell-to-cell transmission is to develop an antibody that blocks tau.
Currently, 5.4 million people in this country have Alzheimer's disease and more than 60,000 of them reside on Long Island. By the middle of this century, it is estimated that approximately 14-16 million people will have a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease; 1 out of 8 baby boomers is at risk.
"I am very pleased to see that we are getting close to finding what may cause Alzheimer's disease," Ms. Malack-Ragona said. "This means researchers could have the necessary building blocks they need to find a cure for Alzheimer's. It may take a few years before we can confirm these findings, but this is still a positive first step."
With a National Alzheimer's Plan currently in the stages of development, Ms. Malack-Ragona is urging elected officials to provide more funding for research. "In order to accelerate the process, the government needs to invest more financial resources into finding a cure for Alzheimer's," she said. "With more than 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, their risk for developing Alzheimer's greatly increases. We are at a critical juncture of the Alzheimer's crisis and time is of the essence. Alzheimer's cannot wait."
For more information, please contact Mary Ann Malack-Ragona, Executive Director/CEO at (631) 820-8068 or visit www.alz.org/longisland.
About Alzheimer's Association
The Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's. For more information, visit www.alz.org.