Flemish scientists make Alzheimer breakthrough

A team of scientists from Leuven University and the Flemish Institute for biotechnology have made a major breakthrough in the study of Alzheimer’s. Their work could provide a new avenue to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time. It is the cause of 60% to 70% of cases of dementia.

The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. As the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation, mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self-care, and behavioural issues.

As a person's condition declines, they often withdraw from family and society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death.

The Flemish scientists say that they believe that it could be helpful to stabilise the interaction between the enzyme gamma-secretase and the peptide beta-amyloid. This would prevent longer and more harmful fragments of beta-amyloid forming in the brain thus preventing Alzheimer’s disease from developing.

Alzheimer sufferers have protein aggregates and patches on their brains that are thought to cause the death of nerve cells. This in turn causes with the memory loss and other symptoms.

The patches are made up of clusters of beta-amyloid that are produced by the enzyme gamma-secretase. The long fragments of the enzyme which cause the most damage to the brain.

The Leuven (Flemish Brabant)-based scientists have now demonstrated that the interaction between gamma-secretase and beta-amyloid determines the type of fragment produced. If the interaction is more stable, long dangerous fragments of beta-amyloid are broken down into smaller sections.

If the link between the gamma-secretase and beta-amyloid link is weaker the protein fragments will be freed more quickly and there is less chance of breaking them down into smaller segments.

The scientists must now determine how their breakthrough can be applied to develop new treatments for those with Alzheimer’s.

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