New Insight Into Alzheimer’s
July 10, 2018
Scientists at UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute have made a discovery that could change how and when doctors detect Alzheimer’s – and it could also lead to more effective treatment for people living with dementia.
Dr. Marc Diamond, Director of the Institute’s Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and a leading dementia expert, led a team to discover the exact moment that a healthy brain protein becomes toxic.
“This is perhaps the biggest finding we have made to date, though it will likely be some time before any benefits materialize in the clinic. This changes much of how we think about the problem,” Dr. Diamond says.
The molecule in question, called tau protein, starts as a harmless compound. But under the right conditions it can shapeshift, setting the stage for cognitive decline. This latest finding shows that once a tau molecule shapeshifts, it can copy itself and then stick together, forming long threads that strangle healthy neurons.
“The hunt is on to build on this finding and make a treatment that blocks the neurodegeneration process where it begins,” Dr. Diamond says. “If it works, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease could be substantially reduced. That would be amazing.”