Research by a Tel Aviv University team may point the way to protecting cells from the damage wrought by Alzheimer’s disease, and even reverse damage that the disease caused before treatment. The method involves a protein similar to one which protects the brain from damage, but which is lacking in Alzheimer’s patients.
What causes Alzheimer’s is still a mystery, but the direct physical conditions leading to the dementia associated with the disease are very clear to scientists. Plaque accumulations and tangles in neurons kill brain cells in Alzheimer’s sufferers, leading to the degeneration of cognitive function and the loss of memory associated with the disease.
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One of the most important objectives of Alzheimer’s research has been to figure out ways to protect brain cells from these senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. In a study published in the May edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Tel Aviv University Prof. Illana Gozes describes how NAP, a snippet of a protein essential for brain formation, has been proven in previous studies to protect cognitive functioning. Loss of NAP exposes cells to physical damage that eventually destroys them, but applying proteins with NAP-like properties makes them healthy again.
It’s just such a protein that Gozes and her team have discovered. The research, she said, could eventually lead to development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s.
Gozes holds the Lily and Avraham Gildor Chair for the Investigation of Growth Factors and is director of the Adams Super Center for Brain Studies at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and a member of Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience.
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Photo: Horia Varlan