What did Ronald Reagan, Rita Hayworth and Ferenc Puskas all have in common? Aside from being prominent figures in the public eye, these people were all diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in their lives: this debilitating condition affects approximately half a million people in the UK and over 34 million people worldwide: importantly, those figures are not taking into account the far-reaching effects this illness has on the loved ones of sufferers, who are often left burdened with the stressful and physically demanding strains of providing care.
Over a thousand trials have been carried out by researchers in an attempt to find some form of treatment or cure for the degenerative disease, but so far, only the symptoms of the disease can be treated in humans, which typically involves a loved one taking on the role of carer: this can lead to a heart-breaking situation for both carer and sufferer, as progression of the disease requires increasing levels of care to be provided.
Aggression, memory loss and mood-swings experienced by the sufferers are usually accompanied by loss of bodily functions; following diagnosis of this disease, life expectancy rarely goes beyond seven years, however, this is a figure which many prominent organisations are hoping to improve.
Care and research charities such as ‘Alzheimer’s Society’ have a vision to help ‘reduce the impact of dementia on lives today and create a world without dementia tomorrow’: this vision could be a step closer if recent exciting research ends up leading the way to an effective cure or vaccine in the not-too-distant future;
‘Betabloc’: a potential cure?
A vaccine has been developed which has returned some promising results in a study involving genetically-modified mice;
The formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain are associated with the disease: these surround neurons and lead to the disintegration of microtubules in brain cells: the modified mice in question have been bred to develop this plaque, so that an effective method of cleaning the substance up could be researched and developed.
‘Betabloc’, a vaccine manufactured by Elan Pharmaceuticals, has been shown to help reduce plaques in the transgenic rodents, whilst some novel new tests on the short-term memory of the mice have demonstrated improvements following a few months of being treated with the vaccine: this could be potentially ground-breaking evidence which could lead to the development of a preventative vaccine against the disease.
The hope with this kind of research is that, with time, not only could the disease be vaccinated against to help prevent its onset in high-risk individuals, but that it could eventually lead to a means of reversing the symptoms associated with this cruel and widespread disease.
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