Harvard study: Protein may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s

Posted by Dr. Shirley Newell
Date:
Category: Memory Care, Healthy Aging

a scientist in a lab.

One of the biggest mysteries in the medical and scientific community is the fact that some seniors end up suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia while others can live well past retirement age without any signs of the disease. A new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University that was published in the journal Nature may explain why this phenomenon continues to occur.

Your RE1-Silencing Transcription factor (REST) is a protein that first appears in the brain during fetal development. This vital component of your mental development works extra hard throughout your lifetime to safeguard neurons from several stressors so that toxic buildup doesn’t occur. In this latest study, Harvard scientists discovered that individuals with Alzheimer’s as well as mild cognitive impairment lack REST in several regions of the brain, which could indicate why some seniors suffer from the disease while others don’t.

“Our work raises the possibility that the abnormal protein aggregates associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases may not be sufficient to cause dementia; you may also need a failure of the brain’s stress response system,” Bruce Yankner, Harvard Medical School genetics professor and study leader, explained in a release. “If true, this opens up a new area in terms of treatment possibilities for the more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although it may happen several years down the road after further research and development, drugs could be created that could work to intervene with the disease quicker and slow the process of cognitive decline. This study is considered groundbreaking, as it gives doctors an entirely different way of looking at Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s research becoming more sophisticated as diagnoses rise

This news comes just weeks after another study published in the journal Nature Medicine discovered that a simple blood test could predict whether or not a person will suffer from Alzheimer’s with 90 percent accuracy. These discoveries are very important, as the current rate of seniors developing memory problems is rising at an significant rate on a worldwide scale.

The alarming facts and figures about Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Even more startling, someone will become impaired with the disease every 67 seconds and 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some other form of memory decline.

The financial cost of caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s can also take its toll on families. During 2013, an estimated 17.7 billion hours on unpaid medical care that is valued at $220 billion was provided by caregivers – which, according to the association, is eight times the total revenue of McDonald’s in 2012. This means that new research could impact families as well as Alzheimer’s patients in the long run on an emotional and financial level.

The good news is, research is becoming more innovative as scientists begin to understand more about the disease and Americans are given access to awareness tools. Studies like these can give millions of people hope that better treatments and an eventual cure may be in the near future.