UPPSALA, Sweden — Alzheimer’s disease has a devastating effect on the brain, characterized by one main symptom and that’s plaque building up in the brain. A Swedish study finds attacking these buildups is possible, but getting them to the brain isn’t so easy. Researchers say they’ve now developed a treatment that can break up these plaques inside the brain.
A team from Uppsala University reveals this new therapy increases the body’s ability to degrade the building blocks which form amyloid-beta proteins. These are the plaques which clump up in a patient’s brain and disrupt neurons. The result leads to the destruction of brain cells, memory loss, cognitive decline, and eventually death. Scientists refer to this buildup as aggregation and protein clumps as aggregates.
Alzheimer’s research usually focuses on treatments which bind to the aggregates and eliminate them. The problem is many small aggregates avoid these treatments and scientists believe they’re more toxic to brain cells.
Using mice in their tests, the Uppsala team experimented with a new delivery system to send the peptide somatostatin into the brain and attack aggregates of all sizes. Until now, somatostatin was incapable of being used as a treatment because of the drug’s short lifespan in the blood. It also couldn’t break through the brain-blood barrier and degrade protein clumps around the neurons.
“So to be able to use somatostatin as a treatment, we fused it to a brain transport protein which allows the somatostatin to enter the brain. This has proved very effective. When we used the transport protein, we also saw that the time that the somatostatin remained in the brain increased to several days, which is fantastic,” says the study’s first author Fadi Rofo in a university release.
Positive results in the part of the brain impacted by Alzheimer’s
The results on mice reveal a strong impact on the hippocampus, the region of the brain tied to forming memories. This is one of the first areas of the brain which Alzheimer’s disease typically affects.
“The fact that we have seen that the effect is most evident in the hippocampus in particular is very good. Our hope is that this method will be able to act in a very targeted way and have few side effects, which have been a problem in other studies,” explains researcher Greta Hultqvist.
Although the team tested their therapy only on mice, they’re confident it will be equally or more effective for humans.
The study appears in the journal Theranostics.