Researchers May Have Finally Found the Cause of Alzheimer's Disease

Your brain may 'leak' toxic chemicals.
Brad Bergan
A 3D rendered image of a neuron cell network.koto_feja / iStock

We could be on the verge of a major breakthrough in the fight to cure Alzheimer's disease.

This would be a world-historical accomplishment, since the buildup of toxic molecules in the brain and its potential links to Alzheimer's disease has baffled scientists for a long time. But recent research has discovered that "leakage" of a specific toxic compound in the bloodstream might be the fundamental cause of the illness, according to a study involving mice recently published in the journal Plos Biology.

More research is needed to further investigate these findings, especially since it was based on mice, not humans. But it's okay to feel excited.

Proteins in the bloodstream can 'leak' toxic chemicals in the brain

Even if this so-called "leaking" doesn't reflect the underlying cause of Alzheimer's in humans, it could still provide scientists with a novel means of tracking and monitoring the onset of the illness, and might help in the development of future treatments to stop it from happening in the first place. "While we previously knew that the hallmark feature of people living with Alzheimer's disease was the progressive accumulation of toxic protein deposits within the brain called beta-amyloid, researchers did not know where the amyloid originated from, or why it deposited in the brain," said John Mamo, a researcher from Curtin University and lead author of the study, in a press release.

The research team discovered the compound that gathers in the brains of those with Alzheimer's called beta-amyloid — which has long been linked with the beginning of dementia — forms outside of the brain, and is then pushed through the body's bloodstream via lipoproteins. These lipoproteins can leak, enabling the insertion of toxic compounds into the brain, where they grow in abundance. In mice, this led to higher amyloid production levels, in addition to more inflammation in the brain, which suggests a possible causal link between the compound and the early symptoms of neurodegenerative disease. "This 'blood-to-brain pathway' is significant because if we can manage the levels in blood of lipoprotein-amyloid and prevent their leakage into the brain, this opens up potential new treatments to prevent Alzheimer's disease and slow memory loss," said Mamo in the release.

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Ultrasound therapy can enhance new treatments for dementia

While it will take time to confirm that this beta-amyloid "leaking" event is the cause of Alzheimer's and dementia in humans, new treatments are making their way into modern medicine. In June, a study described how bouncing ultrasound waves inside one's skull might supercharge the effectiveness of other treatments for Alzheimer's patients. This came on the heels of a new approval from the Food and Drug Administration for first treatment in nearly 20 years for the illness, despite some controversy among the medical industry. "The general sentiments [surrounding the new drug, Aduhelm, developed by Biogen] are that this will boost the Alzheimer's therapeutic space," wrote Professor Jürgen Götz, who works with the Queensland Brain Institute and authored the study about ultrasound waves, in an email to IE. "Whether the drug shows clinical efficacy needs to be proven and the company has many years to do so."

Critically, that drug combined with ultrasound therapy might actually restore memory-forming abilities in humans. But if beta-amyloids and lipoproteins are confirmed as the central catalyst for the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms like dementia, the fight to spare humans from one of the most frightening illnesses imaginable may finally begin to take some serious ground, beyond the supplemental restoration of memory-forming capacities, confronting, preventing, and perhaps one day reversing both the underlying cause effects of Alzheimer's disease in humans.

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