University Alzheimer’s discovery to lead to prevention and treatment?

LONDON: Scientists believe they have made a “revolutionary” breakthrough in finding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, which could lead to treatment and prevention of the most common form of dementia.

The research, led by Perth’s Curtin University, found the likely cause of Alzheimer’s disease was the leakage of fat-carrying particles called lipoproteins containing toxic proteins, beta-amyloid, from the blood into the brain.

Lead investigator John Mamo said mouse studies had shown the probable pathway that beta-amyloid comes from elsewhere in the body to accumulate as toxic plaque-like deposits in the brain, causing Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is potentially a very important finding, maybe, dare I say it, revolutionary. The reason I say that is because the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not really established,” he said.

Alzheimer’s disease is the second biggest killer of Australians, with around half a million people currently living with the disease. With an ageing population and without effective prevention or treatment, it is estimated this will double to one million people by 2058.

Professor Mamo, who is director of the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, said it was little known that amyloid was produced in other parts of the body, particularly in the small intestine where dietary fats are absorbed. Some fats, particularly saturated fats, have been found to profoundly stimulate the production of amyloid in the small intestine.

The team also found that increased levels of amyloid in the blood were associated with the brain’s capillaries, which deliver glucose and oxygen from the bloodstream to brain cells, being increasingly damaged, leading to amyloid leaking into the brain and forming the hallmark plaque-like deposits of Alzheimer’s disease.

In this new research, which is published in medical journal PLOS Biology today, the team genetically engineering mice to produce human amyloid only from their livers to see if there was any difference between them and normal mice, which don’t produce the type of amyloid which forms plaque in the brain.

Professor Mamo said the mice producing the human amyloid only had a much earlier onset of damaged capillaries, lipoprotein-amyloid getting into the brain, inflammation and then brain cell loss.

“These mice develop cognitive impairments. They certainly are developing many of the characteristics that we see in Alzheimer’s disease, so we can demonstrate this progressive accumulation of the amyloid occurring in the brain of these mice. That’s really, in our opinion, the first discovery of a pathway which leads to Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

Professor Mamo hopes that the discovery will lead to more research to develop drugs and advise dietary changes to reduce the production and levels of beta-amyloid to prevent or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team is recruiting volunteers in WA for a clinical trial to test Probucol, a drug previously used to treat cardiovascular disease and stroke, which has been found to preserve memory in Alzheimer’s sufferers. For more information, go to