Those of us who follow the latest research in Alzheimer’s disease are all too familiar with the troublesome amyloid plaques thought to be linked to Alzheimer’s. But could it possibly be that those plaques are actually helpful?
Neuroscientists Rudolph Tanzi and Robert Moir, of Harvard’s largest teaching hospital, Massachusetts General, are turning research upside down with their latest findings. They’re proposing that amyloid-beta is actually a beneficial part of our immunity, with the task of protecting the brain from foreign cells; much in the way an oyster develops a pearl, for self-defense. As Moir explains, “Maybe amyloid plaques are a brain pearl, a way for our body to trap and permanently sequester these invading pathogens.”
This shift in thinking turns amyloid-beta from our enemy to a necessary component of our immune system. The problem lies in an overproduction of the plaques that can then impact healthy brain cells, leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
Although it took years to achieve results, they were well worth the wait. Not only were researchers able to demonstrate the virus and bacteria killing ability of amyloids in a test tube, but the same results were realized when tested in animal models. In fact, mice with infections such as encephalitis or meningitis were protected against the disease when producing amyloids, while those lacking amyloids died within a short period of time.
There are several theories yet to be explored to explain what’s causing overproduction of the amyloid plaques; the immune system could be attacking healthy cells in the brain, similar to other autoimmune disorders. Or, it could be the result of an overreaction to a virus or bacteria that enters the brain. Once the cause is pinpointed, it could potentially allow doctors to halt the process in the early stages and prevent the resulting dementia.
North River Home Care will continue to follow the latest developments in Alzheimer’s disease, while providing specialized dementia care as we await a cure. Whether the need is for short-term respite care to allow family caregivers a break, full-time, around-the-clock care, or anything in between, we’re available as needed to make life easier for those with dementia and those who care for them.