Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that goes on to cause dementia in 60-70 per cent of cases. Causes of the disease are unknown, but many scientists believe that it can be due to genetic factors, depression, head injury or hypertension.
It is a disease that progresses slowly and the symptoms include short-term memory loss (this being the first symptom), disorientation, mood swings, behavioural issues, language problems, loss of motivation – and this can ultimately lead to death.
Due to this reason, Alzheimer’s has been on the radar of research for years. Scientists at Northwestern Medicine, US have recently found out that certain people in their 90s are immune to the symptoms of the disease, with no memory loss or disorientation, even though they have had Alzheimer’s for years.
Professor Changiz Geula, the head of the team, stated that there are certain factors which are shielding the brains and memories of these ‘super agers’ from Alzheimer’s inevitable plaques and tangles. Geula and his team are trying to search for genetic, dietary and environmental influences that could lead to this immunity, by examining the brains of eight individuals older than 90 who had a superior memory. It was found that three of them had Alzheimer’s.
He and his team then examined the neurons in the hippocampus, the section of the brain that controls memory formation, and discovered that these neurons in the individuals that have immunity against Alzheimer’s were still intact. To count the number of neurons, the team examined a series of tissue sections that were stained to make them visually clearer under the microscope. They also examined the frontal cortex to check for plaques due to Alzheimer’s.
The findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2016 annual conference in San Diego. “These findings clearly demonstrate that the brains of some elderly are immune to the toxic effects of plaques and tangles. We never expected it”, stated Geula. Post-mortems of these brains also showed signs of dementia, but with the memory completely intact.
Professor Geula and his team are now working on a larger scale to find out the genetic factors that could potentially be involved in imparting immunity against Alzheimer’s. If they are successful in discovering these factors, it could help those suffering from Alzheimer’s to avoid the devastating symptoms, making life much easier for them. With the current technology in the world of research, this prospect may soon become a reality, making the burden of living with a fatal neurodegenerative disease a thing of the medical past.