New Discovery gives Hope for Alzheimer’s Therapy

Alzheimer’s is a debilitating condition, that statistics show, is affecting nearly 44 million people worldwide. It is most commonly prevalent in Western Europe (North America is close behind).

Now researchers at Cornell University have made a critical discovery of a culprit for Alzheimer’s onset, after a decade of research – cerebral blood flow reduction in patients with Alzheimer’s. By also discovering the reason behind this decreased blood flow in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, possible promising new therapies for the disease are being discovered.

Just like elsewhere in the body, blood flow into the brain is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients needed for cells to do their job properly. When something disrupts that flow, it can impact cognitive functions like learning and memory, and decades of research had already linked this process with Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive impairment and a build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain are better known tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, this new clue of how all this actually happens, fixes the puzzle perfectly.

Cerebral flow reduction is a decrease in the blood flow to the brain, common to Alzheimer’s patients. It results in not just the obvious dizziness but also impaired cognitive functions. It arises from white blood cells that are stuck to the insides of capillaries, the brain’s smallest blood vessels. When some of these capillaries are eventually burdened with blockage, the impact multiplies itself as the stalled capillaries lead to decreased blood flow downstream. So essentially, it is like traffic where a few blocked roads lead to slowdowns further down the road too!

Though such flow blockages were only found in around 2% of the brain’s capillaries, the clots were found to have a disproportionate effect on blood flow, leading to a decrease of approximately 20%. To explore how the blockages impacted cognitive function, the team treated Alzheimer’s mice with antibodies that cleared them away and restored blood flow, and observed improvements within a matter of hours, even in subjects with more advanced Alzheimer’s.

Chris Schaffer, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University says, “Now that we know the cellular mechanism, it’s a much narrower path to identify the drug or the therapeutic approach to treat it.”

The researchers have in fact already identified about 20 drugs that hold promise for potential therapy precisely for humans. They are currently screening them in Alzheimer’s mice, and many of them are already FDA approved for human use. A complete game-changer in Alzheimer’s therapy could well be on its way…