Sunday, March 25, 2012

Alzheimer’s breakthroughs revealed

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Sydney conference hears of significant research results which could lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic approach to the disease

Australian researchers have outlined new approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, which could result in accurate identification of the disease before more debilitating symptoms arise.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is currently only possible through post-mortem examination of the brain, yet early diagnosis is paramount to preventing the disease from causing widespread damage to the brain.

Speaking at The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) 11th annual Pathology Update conference in Sydney, two teams of scientists announced the results of extensive research which found a range of possible “biomarkers” which could result in a new diagnostic and therapeutic approach to tackling the disease.

Dr Simon Laws, from Edith Cowan University and the Australian Imaging Biomarker and Lifestyle (AIBL) research group, announced two major findings from his studies.

In the first, Laws identified a panel of eight potential plasma biomarkers for the disease.

The second study found that sex hormone levels, especially testosterone and luteinizing hormone, correlated with the presence of Alzheimer’s causing plasma and cerebral amyloid-beta in the brain, which could lead to new methods of diagnosis and treatment.

Laws said the identification and validation of a short panel of biomarkers has significant implications for the future diagnosis, prediction and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease.

"The close association of hormones with Alzheimer’s pathology has significant implications on future treatments of the disease, with a clinical trial being the next stage in assessing the efficacy of this approach," Laws said in a statement.

The second team, led by Dr Ashley Bush of the Department of Pathology and Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, was examining how impairments to the brain's ability to export concentrations of transition metals, like zinc, copper and iron, correlate with the presence and formation of plaques. This could provide pathologists with new methods of diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

The levels of these ions in the brain rise with ageing and rise even more as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s set in. The abnormal regulation of metals in the brain is key to the formation of Alzheimer’s causing plaques and tau.

"These recent discoveries concerning the metal-centred neuropathology of Alzheimer’s are the target for a new class of drugs which have shown considerable promise in clinical trials. These abnormalities are also reflected in the periphery in Alzheimer’s disease and may be the basis for predictive biomarkers," said Bush.

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