The sticky plaques made up of the protein called beta-amyloid fill the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. A group of Harvard scientists believe the plaques may form a protection to the brain from viruses, bacteria or other pathogens instead of being harmful. Their study suggests that the disease may be triggered when the brain’s immune system goes awry. Innovations in the treatment of Alzheimer’s could be the result of these findings. After a series of experiments in which the researchers injected the brains of mice and worms with harmful bacteria, they found the amyloid afforded protection against infection. The consistencies of the experiments were then published in the journal Science Translational Medicine; Rudolph Tanzi of Harvard Medical School was author of this new study. He compared the findings to an oyster forming a pearl around a grain of sand to protect itself. It could be that the buildup of too much protective amyloid in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease. If this theory holds true and scientists are able to pinpoint which virus or bacteria spurs the development of plaques, James Hendrix, director of Global Science Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association says, “we might be able to create a vaccine against those pathogens.” There is caution however, that a long distance exists between findings and a cure. Marilyn Albert, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and chair of AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health says, “A lot more work will need to be done to determine how this might apply to treatment of patients.”
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