Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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.


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.


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. 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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6 Responses

  1. The num­bers will con­tin­ue to grow as more and more peo­ple get this mon­strous dis­ease.

    I expe­ri­enced it first­hand with my moth­er who spent the last three years of her life in my home–with Alzheimer’s.

    Research is cru­cial. We have to com­bat this dis­ease from all angles–and soci­eties need to add more pres­sure and demand so that research and devel­op­ment will continue–and hope­ful­ly make sig­nif­i­cant progress.

    ~Car­ol D. O’Dell
    Author of Moth­er­ing Moth­er: A Daughter’s Humor­ous and Heart­break­ing Mem­oir


  2. Alvaro says:

    Hel­lo Car­ol, thank you for shar­ing. We are sor­ry about that.

    Yes, research is cru­cial, as is help­ing build a more pre­ven­tion-ori­ent­ed cul­ture. Already today, there is enough evi­dence sug­gest­ing lifestyle fac­tors that can reduce sig­nif­i­cant­ly the prob­a­bil­i­ty of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms. All aware­ness pro­grams, such as those by the Alzheimer’s Foun­da­tion, AARP, Dana Foun­da­tion, and more, are very impor­tant.

  3. Ed Batista says:

    Kudos to Kristin, Alvaro. And small world: I grew up in the same area. Nice to see a con­nec­tion with Cen­tral PA.


  4. Kevin says:

    I love you. nice job on your essay. every­thing you wrote is com­plete­ly true.

  5. Brenda says:

    Excel­lent overview Kris­ten. My Mom was diag­nosed in 1997 at age 53. She lived 11 yrs. The first drug — Ari­cept afford­ed us many more “good” yrs. I am hope­ful there will be more on the hori­zon. Hug your Moms for Mother’s Day!

  6. Kia Ren says: is award­ing you as top resource and if you would like to get the ban­ner, please email me back with the sub­ject line as your URL to avoid Spam and also to make sure that you only get the ban­ner.

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