Alzheimer’s is one of the larger medical mysteries of modern science- while doctors have a stronger understanding of Alzheimer’s now than ever before, they also are often bereft of treatment options and timely methods of diagnosis.
Until recently, beta-amyloid (protein) plaques known to be associated with Alzheimer’s could only be definitively diagnosed upon autopsy. Further complicating the matter, some patients with severe dementia did not experience the build up of the Alzheimer’s-related plaques, while others were found to have the plaque build-up and no symptoms of dementia. Still the beta-amyloid plaques are the most definite link we have to likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, even if there is still no cure for the devastating and ultimately fatal disease.
Anders Dale, PhD, is a researcher on a new study concerning the plaques, and Dale explained their role in the development of Alzheimer’s to ScienceDaily:
“In these older individuals, the presence of a-beta alone was not associated with clinical decline… However, when p-tau was present in combination with a-beta, we saw significant clinical decline over three years.”
Co-author James Brewer, MD, PhD, told the site:
“One of the exciting dimensions of this paper was the combined use of cerebrospinal fluid markers and clinical assessments to better elucidate the neurodegenerative process underlying Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who do not yet show clinical signs of dementia… We do not have an animal model that works very well for studying this disease, so the ability to examine the dynamics of neurodegeneration in living humans is critical.”
However, the new diagnostics have sparked ominously vague concern in some about how information about a potential future Alzheimer’s diagnosis will be used, and experts recommend a strong focus on the “emotional impact” of such information on those who may learn they are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Still, other experts comment that they “believe [such research] is the first major step on a pathway to a cure” for Alzheimer’s.