It’s a disease the slowly over time robs a person of their memories and eventually their life but as yet, researchers haven’t been able to figure out what causes Alzheimer’s disease, never mind how to stop it or even better, reverse the damage and cure it. Yet in a landmark study that was published in the journal Neuron on June 21, researchers were able to draw a connection between the degenerative disease that claims the lives of one out of three seniors (if not Alzheimer’s then a relative form of dementia) annually, to two viruses.
“The new study gives the results of a large-scale analysis of data from the post-mortem brain samples of Alzheimer’s patients and ‘control’ patients with normal brain function. They relied on four large databases of samples, which each contained multiple kinds of genetic information,” reports Popular Science.
The researchers were initially looking to come up with drugs to treat the disease but after making the computers models and running their data through it, preliminary results indicated that the genes changing in the Alzheimer’s patients’ brains were “known to have antiviral or antimicrobial activities.” While this discovery surprised the researchers, they continued to follow the path and what they learned was that the genes were “two incredibly common and closely related herpesviruses that are known to cause childhood rashes and fevers,” and they are so common that almost everyone has them.
“The study provides new evidence that ‘innate immune function somehow has a role in Alzheimer’s,’ which could help researchers learn how to detect it earlier and treat it,” according to Popular Science. Another takeaway from this new research study is that it suggests two paths for the future treatment of the disease. These applications could treat patients with antiviral medications to keep the herpes virus from progressing, or it could focus on the brain’s immune system in a way that makes it less active, as reported by Quartz. Considering how finding a way to detect the disease early as well as treatment to stop the progression or even reverse it has eluded researchers, any new ideas are encouraging and can bring much-needed hope where there hasn’t been much previously.
Alzheimer’s disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, according to the Alzheimer’s Association‘s fact sheet. It’s also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is estimated that 5.7 million Americans are living with it right now. Not only that, between 2000 and 2015, the rate of deaths from Alzheimer’s has risen by 123 percent.