U researchers find help for memory loss

The research might help in developing new Alzheimer’s therapies.

Yelena Kibasova

University researchers have awakened hope in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The team, led by Karen Ashe, professor of neurology, found a protein in the brain that has been shown to cause memory loss. This new finding brings potential for developing medicine to stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers manipulated the genetic makeup of lab mice to develop memory loss similar to human memory problems before the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, said research associate Sylvain Lesne.

It generally has been accepted that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the growth of brain-clogging proteins called plaques and tangles.

University researchers found that the mice, which had no plaques or nerve cell loss in the brain, had a form of a specific protein distinct from plaques.

The team’s research indicates that the tangles and plaques are not a cause of memory loss.

Researchers extracted the protein, called amyloid-beta star 56, and injected it into healthy rats, Lesne said. The injected protein resulted in cognitive impairment in the rats.

About 4.5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Minnesota will see a 25 percent increase in Alzheimer’s disease from 2000 to 2025. This is lower than the predicted national average increase of 44 percent over this time.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, although there is treatment for cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

“This work Ö is not the final word on Alzheimer memory loss, but it points us toward potentially interesting therapeutic targets,” said Sam Gandy, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Council and a professor at Thomas Jefferson University in Pennsylvania, in a statement. “Now more than ever we need to sustain our investment in research so we can move these discoveries from mice to men.”

University experts will continue conducting research. A better understanding of the protein and ways to target it can lead to future development of drugs to cure Alzheimer’s, Lesne said.

A cure could bring relief for sufferers of the disease and all those affected, said Catherine Deiman of St. Paul, who has dealt with dementia and memory loss in her family.

“It would definitely help the family,” she said. It is hard for children and spouses because patients sometimes forget who their relatives are.

“I see (the finding) as a wonderful thing,” Deiman said.

Ashe is creating a Center for Memory Research and Care at the University where further research will be done.

Lesne said the creation of the center will boost the search for a cure.

The research took about three years to complete. The findings were published in the March 16 issue of Nature magazine.