Alzheimer’s disease is one of the cruelest maladies that can be inflicted on a person and their family. It can rob someone of not only their memories, but their dignity. And loved ones are tormented as the man or woman they spent their life with doesn’t even know who they are.
So far, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But there is abundant research being done now on the disease, and there was promising news last week from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Scientists there have successfully slowed down memory loss and suppressed the diminishment of learning abililty on mice that have Alzheimer’s. These MIT researchers did this by working with a gene in the mouse brain, SIRTU, which regulates the production of sirtuin one, a type of protein.
Both The Wall Street Journal, in a story headlined “Gene Shows Promise for Alzheimer’,” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704421304575383341668014752.html
and The New York Times, in an article headlined “Researchers Find Potential in a New Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease,” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/health/research/24alzheimers.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper
wrote about MIT’s findings last week.
Of course, the hope is that a drug based on the MIT research can be developed for humans that will increase their sirtuin levels, and thus ward off Alzheimer’s disease. That is a big leap, but if offers some hope to those praying for a cure.
According to The Journal’s explanation, the MIT researchers genetically engineered mice to produce more sirtuin. As those mice got older, they retained more of their memory and cognitive functions. The mice without the additional sirtuin, or no sirtuin at all, suffered significant drops in their learning abilityand memory as they got older.
Alzheimer’s affects as much as one-third of those who reach age 80, according to The Journal, with its hallmark symptoms of memory loss and impaired thinking. Those are believed to be caused by amytoid plaques in the brain. The Journal explained that these plaques are created when special proteins “get broken up into smaller fragments known as amytoid peptides.”
But these peptdes can be broken down into even smaller fragments, at which point that aren’t harmful to the brain. And this is exactly what sirtuin does, according to The Journal.
The Times story, which ran a day after The Journal’s, noted that there are already substances that activate sirtuin in humans. One of them is resveratrol, which can be found in red wine and some foods. And a company, Sirtrus, has developed drugs that duplicate the effects of resveratrol, according to The Times.
The paper wrote that there is a lot of research being done on sirtuin because it seems to promote longevity, in part “because it seems to protect the body’s various organs against disease by stepping up maintenance programs.”