Alzheimer’s Disease is widely feared and poorly understood. While we’re still working out the exact mechanisms, we know that it’s associated with plaques that collect in the brain, which is why we can use snake venom as a potential cure. Ideally, though, we’d like to be in a place where Alzheimer’s never happens, and a new theory may lead to an Alzheimer’s vaccine.
As noted above, we know that plaques collect in the brain of Alzheimer’s sufferers, cutting off vital neurological pathways. The question is how these plaques start accumulating. Researchers have noted Alzheimer’s sufferers have a more permeable blood-brain barrier. That means that the barrier which protects cerebrospinal fluid from neurotoxins and other potentially harmful agents circulating in the blood isn’t as strong as it could be in those people who are susceptible to the disease. The theory is that Alzheimer’s is caused by infectious agents that attack the brain, triggering the plaques as a defense mechanism. In theory, if researchers can determine which microbes cause the problem, they can vaccinate against them.
This is promising new information, but there are a few points that need to be tested. First of all, not everyone agrees with the microbe theory; there’s a possible genetic component, for example. Several competing theories, such as low neurotransmitter levels and protein abnormalities also have promise. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that there’s any one pathogen causing the problem. It could be hundreds of them, or it might simply be an issue with the blood-brain barrier itself. Still, it’s a compelling theory, and there’s little to lose by testing it. If the research is inaccurate, it will rule out a potential cause while offering new insights. And if it’s right, we might be able to vaccinate against Alzheimer’s sooner rather than later.
(via Boing Boing)