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Alzheimer’s Disease: Treatment Directions

Last year, Jef­frey Gonce, a Psy­chol­ogy teacher at Red Land High School (West Shore School Dis­trict, PA) asked his stu­dents to “com­plete a project describ­ing a recent brain (or genetic) study that affects behav­ior.” The stu­dents could opt to post their arti­cles online, and Jef­frey was kind enough to send us a link to read the results. We enjoyed read­ing them all, and pub­lished in our blog this beau­ti­ful essay, titled “Tis bet­ter to give than receive”, writ­ten by Alexan­dra, which  was sub­se­quently included in a num­ber of neu­ro­science an psy­chol­ogy blogs. Ear­lier this year we high­lighted this piece on Musi­cal train­ing as men­tal exer­cise for cog­ni­tive per­for­mance, writ­ten by Megan.

This quar­ter, Jef­frey also sent us his stu­dents’ essays, and we are going to rec­og­nize and pub­lish this great essay by high school stu­dent Kristin H.

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Alzheimer’s Dis­ease

– By Kristin H.

Alzheimer’s is a dis­ease which causes peo­ple, gen­er­ally of an older age, to lose mem­ory and for­get how to accom­plish sim­ple tasks. Demen­tia is the dis­ease which Alzheimer’s is a part and about four mil­lion Amer­i­cans were diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999, a num­ber which is expected to grow (Alt­man 8–9). Demen­tia is an unspe­cific brain dis­ease com­monly asso­ci­ated with mem­ory loss and another seri­ous brain dys­func­tion. Demen­tia is an incur­able dis­ease (“Demen­tia”). A new drug treat­ment that replaces the enzyme miss­ing in an Alzheimer’s brain may be able to cure Alzheimer’s dis­ease in it’s late stages (Coghlan).

Rebecca Rupp says mem­ory allows peo­ple to “shape our char­ac­ters, build our careers, forge our rela­tion­ships, and (cre­ate the) irre­place­able his­to­ries of our­selves. With­out (mem­ory), we are hol­low per­sons, not only empty of a past, but lack­ing a foun­da­tion upon which to build the future” (Alt­man 27). In a brain affected by Alzheimer’s dis­ease, neu­rons, nerve cells, are unable to work prop­erly (Alt­man 29–30). Stud­ies have shown that Uch-L1, an enzyme which rids the brain of pro­tein, begins to dis­ap­pear as the pres­ence of the pro­tein amy­loid beta plaque begins to increase in an Alzheimer’s brain as opposed to a nor­mal brain. The abun­dance of the amy­loid beta plaque par­tially dis­ables a neuron’s abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other neu­rons (Cogh­lan). Cer­tain pro­teins that are found in the Alzheimer’s brain can cause cell deaths (Alexan­der). The com­bi­na­tion of these dys­func­tions, gen­er­ally affect­ing the cor­ti­cal and lim­bic regions, parts of the brain which affect emo­tions and mem­ory, are what causes the mem­ory loss and other symp­toms asso­ci­ated with Alzheimer’s dis­ease (Alexander).

Doc­tors cur­rently only use treat­ments and ther­a­pies intended to sti­fle the symp­toms as opposed to cur­ing the dis­ease. There are cur­rently only two drugs, Tacrine and Donepezil, that have been approved for use in the United States by the F.D.A. Both are quick fixes for symp­toms and the effects of the drugs never last long (Alt­man, 55). Cur­rent med­ica­tions are aimed at pre­vent­ing more Alzheimer’s plaques or destroy­ing the plaques. The new treat­ment works dif­fer­ently, aim­ing at another part of the dys­func­tional brain (Coghlan).

At Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity, sci­en­tists tried this new treat­ment on mice that they hope will one day be able to help humans who are affected by Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Michael She­lan­ski, lead­ing the research team, bred mice to have a rodent’s Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Pieces of cer­tain rodents’ brains were sub­jected to the amy­loid beta pro­tein. The other rodents had been born with a brain that would nat­u­rally pro­duce the pro­tein. The dif­fer­ent kinds of brains were then treated with Uch-L1 and brain func­tions began to improve and return to nor­mal (Coghlan).

A spokes­woman for the UK Alzheimer’s Soci­ety said, “Cur­rently, there’s only one type of drug avail­able, and this only sta­bi­lizes symp­toms for a lim­ited period but research on the new approach is still in the early stages…so fur­ther tri­als are urgently needed” (Cogh­lan). Cur­rently, the Uch-L1 would enter the body through a shot in the abdomen. Researchers are hop­ing to develop a pill which would have the same effect as the injec­tion (Cogh­lan). Cur­rently and in the future, researchers will likely con­tinue exper­i­ment­ing with the drug both to find the out­come when used on humans and to find a suc­cess­ful oral treat­ment. From this cur­rent research and pos­si­ble new treat­ment, it seems that things are look­ing up for Alzheimer’s patients who are cur­rently diag­nosed with­out any hope of a recovery.

Bib­li­og­ra­phy

1.Alexander, Gene. “Alzheimer’s Dis­ease.” Access Sci­ence. Online. McGraw-Hill. Red Land High School Lib., Lewis­berry, PA. 21 Feb. 2008 .
2.Altman, Linda Jacobs. Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books Inc., 2001.
3.Coghlan, Andy. “New Treat­ment ‘res­cues’ brains of Alzheimer’s mice.” 24 Aug. 2006. NewScientist.com News Ser­vice. 19 Feb. 2008
4.“Dementia.” National Insti­tute of Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders and Stroke. 9 Sept. 2007. Med­line Plus. 26 Feb. 2008

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