Professor Frank LaFerla, associate director of the UCI Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, recently found through experiments on mice that a new treatment might slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The treatment involves removing the plaques which some believe are responsible for this disease.
LaFerla and other researchers, began their research by studying the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
About a year ago, LaFerla’s lab created the first mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. These mice were important because researchers could now experiment on test subjects that had the two important features of the disease: plaques and tangles.
Plaques are found outside of the brain cells and have a protein that is thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Tangles are lesions that occur inside the cell. Both plaques and tangles need to be present before a person can be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
According to LaFerla, as the mice became older, the disease progressed just as it would in humans.
‘The regions that were affected in the mouse brain are exactly the same regions that you see affected in the human Alzheimer’s disease. These are the areas that are involved with learning and memory,’ LaFerla said.
LaFerla’s team sought to find the outcome of the tangle pathology if plaques were removed. They have learned that as the plaques are removed, the tangles are also eliminated. This provides the strongest evidence that plaques and tangles are related. Their studies have provided evidence that a protein in plaques cause the start of a tangle.
Tangles occur during both the early and late stages of the disease. However, LaFerla and his workers found that their treatment could only remove tangles during the early stages.
‘Once the tangles reach a certain point, they are no longer clearable from the brain,’ LaFerla said. ‘The sooner you start treating individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, the better your chances are of slowing down the disease.’
LaFerla was motivated to study Alzheimer’s disease because of its devastating effects on the elderly.
‘Alzheimer’s is a disorder in which individuals progressively lose their memory,’ LaFerla said. ‘It’s the most common cause of memory loss in the adult population … It has a very significant impact on our society