U.S. physician and surgeon, William J. Mayo, was one of the seven founders of the prestigious Mayo Clinic, a non-profit American academic medical center focused on integrated health care, education, and research. He explained, “The aim of medicine is to prevent disease and prolong life; the ideal of medicine is to eliminate the need of a physician.” Thankfully, scientific, health, and medical technologies are continually advancing, affording us opportunities to live longer and more healthful lives. Yet, there remains much to learn about many illnesses and diseases, such as dementia which affects millions of people and currently has no cure. Let’s examine some new theories that offer hope.
Dementia, a group of conditions characterized by impairment of at least two brain functions, is very common. It is not a specific disease, but rather a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities. Unfortunately, dementia can interfere with daily life and no cure exists. Thus, it is imperative that experts find answers and quickly. Alzheimer’s disease, a particular form of dementia, slowly erodes memory and thinking skills. As medical experts and scientists alike search for a cure for this most common type of dementia, Science Alert explains that some new theories on Alzheimer’s have emerged that possibly could be game changers for the estimated 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and older who are living with Alzheimer’s dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is considered a type of brain disease caused by damage to nerve cells called neurons in the brain. Neurons are essential to all human activity, including thinking, walking, and talking. It is currently believed that brain changes that cause Alzheimer’s disease may begin 20 years or more before symptoms begin. The main cause of Alzheimer’s is thought to be related to an accumulation of the protein beta-amyloid outside neurons and twisted strands of the protein tau inside neurons. With Alzheimer’s disease, death of neurons and damage to brain tissue occurs. Inflammation and atrophy of brain tissue are other noted changes. Science Alert explains that for years, scientists have been trying to find new treatments for Alzheimer’s by preventing the formation of the brain-damaging clumps of the beta-amyloid protein. A laboratory at the Krembil Brain Institute, part of the University Health Network in Toronto, set forth a new theory on Alzheimer’s disease. They think it to principally be a disorder of the immune system within the brain, rather than a brain disease as most experts believe.
Science Alert explains that the dedication to studying abnormal protein clumps has not produced a useful drug or therapy. Researchers share that beta-amyloid is not an abnormally produced protein but is rather a normally occurring molecule that is part of the brain’s immune system. And it’s supposed to be there. The article states, “When brain trauma occurs or when bacteria are present in the brain, beta-amyloid is a key contributor to the brain’s comprehensive immune response. And this is where the problem begins.” It’s described that beta-amyloid cannot tell the difference between invading bacteria and host brain cells due to striking similarities between the fat molecules that make up the membranes of bacteria and the membranes of the cell. Thus, they mistakenly attack the brain cells they are supposed to be protecting, ultimately culminating in dementia. Thus, this misdirected attack is an abnormal immune response.
In an unrelated study, Science Alert also describes efforts by a team of international researchers to discover a link between dementia and brain abnormalities from high blood pressure. The article shares that for the first time a study has identified certain areas of the brain that are “potentially causally associated with high blood pressure and cognitive impairment,” per medical biologist Mateusz Siedlinski from Jagiellonian University Medical College. The biologist and colleagues used genetic and imaging data and observational analysis from 33,000 individual records in the UK Biobank to find the damage caused by high blood pressure that contributes to dementia. Researchers identified where in the brain long-term hypertension can cause structural changes that lead to declines in cognitive function. They could see what those changes look like in brain scan images. Additionally, higher systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure were shown to impact cognitive decline. Though the current study was said to lack demographic diversity, what’s exciting is that each new finding sends researchers in promising new directions for further investigation.
In 1926, William Mayo said, “There are two objects of medical education. To heal the sick, and to advance the science.” Today, that continues. Medical research is a complex field that continually pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking. While some of the theories above may be considered controversial in the standard way of thinking, they demonstrate the desire to make advances and particularly to seek solutions for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As researchers, scientists, and physicians work tirelessly and undeterred to discover new ways to treat the symptoms of disease to improve patients’ lives, new studies also offer immense hope of a cure, if not for today, possibly soon.
This article is purely informational and is not intended as a medical resource.