Researchers at the University of Glasgow, in partnership with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, have made an encouraging step forward in the development of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Their study has shown that a protein called IL-33 improves cognitive function and reduces the symptoms of a condition very similar to Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of mice.
IL-33 appears to work by targeting the plaque build-ups within a brain affected by the Alzheimer’s-like condition. These clumps of plaque sever connections between nerve cells and eventually lead to the death of those cells, therefore causing memory loss and decline in cognitive function. IL-33 appears to activate immune cells within the brain to attack and break down the plaque; it also appears to prevent inflammation in the brain, which is a major cause of plaque developing in the first place – it therefore works as an eradicator of existing plaque and a deterrent for more plaque being created.
This is a massively important step in the search for a possible cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which is the leading cause of dementia and currently affects around 850,000 people in the UK. As 65 million people are expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease by 2030, the need to find a cure is more pressing than ever. Although treatment exists which can temporarily alleviate symptoms or slow down their progression, there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s.
The impact which Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have on people’s lives and those of their loved ones can be devastating. Charities such as Alzheimer’s Society offer information, advice and support groups for people living with the condition as well as their carers, and also fund research into new treatments for the disease; perhaps the research undertaken with the help of University of Glasgow marks a fruition of all these efforts.
While Professor Eddy Liew, head of the research project at University of Glasgow, was keen to point out that IL-33 still has to stand up in clinical trials, he remains hopeful that this breakthrough could lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
[Caitlin Walker – @hirquitallient]