Alzheimer’s disease is a complicated disease. What medical experts do know is that Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal form of dementia that kills brain cells, causing steady declines in memory and thinking — to the point where people lose the ability to care for themselves. Drugs are used to treat symptoms, but none are able to stop the progression of the disease. It is estimated that Alzheimer’s affects 26 million people globally.
Now — here’s one more thing that you might not know about Alzheimer’s: a toxic form of a protein kills brain cells in people with the condition. This protein is called “tau.”
Recently, researchers at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease in San Francisco have discovered that a nerve-protecting enzyme called “SIRT1” may help prevent the toxic form of tau from forming.
The team studied the relationship between SIRT1 and a form of tau that is strongly linked with Alzheimer’s disease, called “p-tau.” They found that mice genetically engineered to lack the SIRT1 gene were more likely to make the toxic form of tau. And when they tested a chemical that restores levels of SIRT1, it helped stop the formation of p-tau.
The researchers think that restoring levels of SIRT1 could offer a new approach to developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. This could very well be the major breakthrough scientists have been searching for; in part, because people with Alzheimer’s tend to have low levels of SIRT1, and drugs that boost these levels may keep the toxic form of tau from forming. The researchers are confident that, by modulating the pathway by which tau forms, they could be able to lower the toxic form of tau.
Many drug companies have already been working on drugs that activate SIRT1, as the enzyme is thought to control many age-related diseases.