Friday, January 27, 2012

More promising news on the Alzheimer's research front

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CALGARY — A new study by researchers at the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute is challenging the conventional thinking about how brain cells die in Alzheimer's disease, and may one day lead to effective treatment for the memory-ravaging condition.

Researchers Peter Stys and Gerald Zamponi have shown that brain cells of Alzheimer's patients are dying because of malfunctions in key receptors known as NMDA receptors, which are critical for memory and learning.

"We've shown that the NMDA receptor functions improperly when there is too much alpha beta (a protein) around the ,NMDA receptor" says Zamponi, head of the university's department of physiology and pharmacology.

"So the key now is to find out how to reverse this, and find the right drug that regulates the NMDA receptor."

And by reversing that malfunction, scientists may one day be able to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's.

Zamponi says the University of Calgary is now working with the Centre for Drug Discovery Research and Development in Vancouver, screening hundreds of thousands of drugs to find one that is safe and successfully regulates NMDA.

It may take about two to three years to get to clinical trials, then another four to five years to complete them.

Gaudette says in all his years of working with Alzheimer's patients and their families, this is the most exciting discovery yet, calling it a potential "game changer" for everyone involved in dementia research and care.

"This offers hope. It's a ray of light for people who suffer from this terrible disease."

Alzheimer's disease destroys brain cells and results in memory loss, changes in mood and behaviour, and difficulty with day-to-day tasks.

While it is most commonly diagnosed in adults over the age of 65, more and more cases are being diagnosed in people in their 50s and sometimes even in their 40s.

"Ten years ago, that was unheard of. But we have better diagnoses, better awareness, and people feel more comfortable now getting a diagnosis."

Gaudette encourages anyone who may suspect they are showing symptoms of early onset to go to see their doctor because early diagnoses can lead to early intervention and drug therapy which can significantly slow down progression on the disease.

Zamponi and Stys' research was funded by Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions.

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