Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Alzheimer Disease

From The Boston Globe:

Mind mystery
Alzheimer's disease appears to have multiple causes, and scientists are slowly unraveling them

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff
March 29, 2005

A century after Alois Alzheimer identified the debilitating dementia that carries his name, scientists are still trying to determine what causes the disease in old age. Their quest takes on increasing urgency, with predictions that unless a cure is found, the number of Americans with the disease will rise from about 4.5 million now to 13 million in 2050.

Many scientists believe that Alzheimer’s results from a complex interplay of environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and genes and proteins gone haywire. But the changes in the brain that characterize the disease develop over decades and also occur in some healthy seniors, making it difficult to sort out the culprits from the bystanders.

Yet, tantalizing tidbits have surfaced in the last few weeks, including discovery of a new genetic mutation that appears to increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s and new evidence that insulin deficiencies may contribute to deterioration of the brain.

‘‘The pieces are coming together. We’ve got the outline of the puzzle in place, and we’re beginning to see the form,’’ said Stephen Snyder, who oversees research on the causes of Alzheimer’s for the National Institute on Aging. ‘‘It’s probably five or six genes and a dozen proteins that get out of kilter,’’ said Snyder, and certainly not just the sticky clumps of proteins called beta-amyloid plaques that have received the most attention.
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