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Researchers Identify New Protein Binding Characteristic That Could Better Treat Alzheimer’s

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Posted December 5, 2017

Image credit: Seanbatty via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

As the rate and pervasiveness of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) continue to spike across the United States, efforts to improve upon current treatments have grown simultaneously. Fortunately, there’s been a recent technological breakthrough in understanding the mechanics behind AD.

Scientists at Rice University invented a metallic probe that glows as it connects to a misfolded amyloid beta peptide. This has isolated a particular binding site which could lead to improved drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Amyloid beta peptides consist of a particular set of amino acids, or proteins, which are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In normal, functioning brains, these proteins are disbanded and destroyed. Alternatively, in Alzheimer’s disease patients, they transform into a folded shape. This enables the fragments to replicate and aggregate, forming solid plaques known as fibrils.

How Does Light Therapy for Alzheimer’s Research Work?

Once illuminated, the light-activated probe induces oxidation, or dissolves the protein, in a manner thought to prevent it from accumulating in the brain. As described by Rice chemist Angel Martí, light activation enables researchers to have exquisite control of oxidation.

The study performed by Rice researchers was supported by computer simulations carried out by associates at the University of Miami (UM). The UM team projected the probe would affix to a peptide neighboring a hydrophobic, or water-repelling pocket, emerging on fibril aggregate’s exterior. According to reports, this signifies a fresh objective for drugs.

After using a rhenium-derived complex, which is an oxidation level indicator, to seek out fibrils, locating the site was regarded as rather simple. The light-switching mechanism shines when struck with infrared waves. However, upon binding to the fibril it shines exponentially brighter. This triggers corrosion of the amyloid peptide.

Martí claims he and his team think this hydrophobic pocket is a universal binding location for molecules. This is significant since amyloid plaques are a strong indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are invested in discovering medications which will repress the toxic effects of amyloid beta aggregates. On the other hand, in order to create such drugs, it’s compulsory to first understand how molecules usually bind and work with amyloid fibrils, which isn’t widely recognized.

Fortunately, the team now has increased insight of what the molecule must interact with these fibrils. Assuming the subsequent oxidation restrains the fibrils from aggregating deeper into the sticky substance located within the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, it may be the dawn of a valuable approach to cease aggregation prior to the appearance of symptoms.

“We imagine it might be possible someday to prevent symptoms of Alzheimer’s by targeting amyloid beta in the same way we treat cholesterol in people now to prevent cardiovascular disease,” Martí said. “That would be wonderful.”

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, an umbrella term for memory loss and other cognitive functions, which are severe enough to hinder daily life. Oftentimes, symptoms develop gradually and worsen over time.

It’s important to note that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of growing old. While the most widely known risk factor is aging, and the bulk of people with Alzheimer’s are over 65, Alzheimer’s doesn’t discriminate. In fact, nearly 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 are diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are viewed as a major threat to society. The number of people who will develop Alzheimer’s disease is projected to soar in the coming years, and the aging of the baby boom generation is a dominant factor.

As 79 million baby boomers will turn 65 at a rate of one every eight seconds, this equates to more than four million per year. If researchers could prolong the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years with better drugs, our country could keep far more Alzheimer’s patients out of nursing homes and hospitals.

Why Is It Important to Find New Treatment Methods for Alzheimer’s?

There are many arguments supporting the need for finding new and improved treatments for Alzheimer’s. One of which is the importance of early detection. According to Dr. Heather Snyder, senior associate director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, the time to intervene is during the preliminary stages of the brain disease.

People who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease early are given a voice in planning for their future. This empowers them to advocate on their own behalf, alleviating some of the stress often imposed upon caregivers who are forced to make tough decisions in the future.

Interventions stunting the looming cognitive impairment associated with the disease also helps the economy. For every cent the National Institutes of Health puts towards Alzheimer’s research, Americans spend $3.50 caring for individuals with the disease, for a total of $172 billion a year.

What Is Sundown Syndrome in Alzheimer’s Patients?

While other common causes of death are consistently declining, cases of Alzheimer’s are on the rise. In the event the disease strikes a loved one, an entire family can fall into crisis, especially in instances of sundown syndrome.

Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a neurological wonder linked with increased confusion and aggression in dementia patients. It’s characterized by sudden outbursts of manic agitation as the sun starts to set.

There’s a discrepancy amongst researchers as to the precise reason behind the sundown syndrome phenomenon. Some suggest it’s caused by a buildup of sensory stimulation, which becomes overpowering as the day comes to an end. Others attribute it to hormonal imbalances or fatigue.

While studies indicate there’s a legitimate correlation between dusk and sundown syndrome, with several nursing facilities reporting heightened symptoms during the winter months, it’s more likely to occur if an individual is extremely tired, hungry, thirsty, depressed, in pain or bored.

Why Is Alzheimer’s Disease Research Important?

Currently, Alzheimer’s is a leading killer in the United States. Though there are treatments for symptoms on the market, none can stop the disease from progressing. As a result, a collective effort is necessary to uncover new ways to delay onset and improve current care.

Funding is a critical component of furthering Alzheimer’s research. Fortunately, the Alzheimer’s Association is dedicated to accelerating the global effort to eradicate Alzheimer’s disease.

As the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research, the organization boasts its exceptional grant program. Since 1982, the nonprofit has awarded over $405 million to more than 2,600 projects.

The Impact of Alzheimer’s Disease

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s affects families in countless ways. Caregiving is a devastating and long-term process since people afflicted by the disease often undergo a slow and debilitating regression. Many families care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s at home for as long as possible. However, it usually evolves into a saddening and shattering challenge watching helplessly as someone deteriorates.

Today, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s and there is not much in the way of prevention for those with a genetic predisposition.

Nonetheless, knowledge is power. By understanding the basics of this disease and raising awareness, meaningful actions may inspire change — and perhaps a cure.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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