Alzheimer's Research Yields Promising Results

Tim Watt  |  March 9, 2012

Researchers at Simon Fraser University believe they have found a possible way to slow the development of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. According to the researchers, maintaining sugar levels in certain proteins could be the key to stopping the spread of the disease.

This doesn't mean seniors should be eating candy by the handful. Alzheimer's has been conclusively linked to the protein tau, which can essentially clog the "highways" of the brain, slowing down memory and cognitive abilities. People with severe cases of the disease who need Alzheimer's care typically have a large buildup of tau in the brain. Researchers have also found tau begins to clump together when there is no sugar attached to it.

A naturally occurring enzyme called O-GlcNAcase was also found to take the sugar away from the tau. Thus, the researchers developed a chemical inhibitor that can essentially lock the enzyme down and keep it from stealing the tau's sugar. Tau that keeps the glucose tends not to clump and keep the brain relatively free of problems.

The theory was tested in mice with good results, and the study has now been published in the latest issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

"A lot of effort is needed to tackle this disease and different approaches should be pursued to maximize the chance of successfully fighting it," said lead author David Vocadlo. "In the short term, we need to develop better inhibitors of the enzyme and test them in mice. Once we have better inhibitors, they can be clinically tested."

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