Even in the year 2014, there are still a handful of diseases that continue to stump our best and brightest minds. One of those elusive ailments is Alzheimer’s disease. More than 5 million people in the United States are currently suffering from this form of dementia, but the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that number will swell to over 13.8 million by 2050. It’s a disease that claims enough lives to rank the nation’s sixth leading cause of death. And scientists still don’t understand how to prevent, treat or predict the cause of this terrifying disease.
Studying Alzheimer’s disease is extremely difficult. As it stands now, the only way to physically detect its presence in the brain is by conducting an autopsy, long after the disease has run its course. Animal testing is also conducted in hopes of discovering valuable insight into the disease, but the results are less than helpful in the end. Today, however, British scientists believe they have uncovered a new way to study the possible causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
By conducting various biomedical tests using single-celled amoebas, British researchers hope to gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists across the world agree that a protein known as presenilin protein plays a significant role in causing Alzheimer’s. Researchers from the Royal Holloway University of London and the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College, London, conducted and published an in-depth study that found amoebas can actually offer a much more accurate way to study the presenilin proteins and their functions.
Professor Robin Williams, a scientist from Royal Holloway, believes his team has proven that, by studying amoebas, the medical community now has a real shot at solving the mystery of Alzheimer’s. He hopes the organisms will ultimately reveal just how human proteins function and how their mutations are linked to the development of dementia.
“This discovery allows us to examine the role for the human presenilin 1 protein, without the use of animal testing. It is amazing that so simple an organism lends itself to the study of such a complex disease,” Williams said in a press release.
Considering the rate at which Alzheimer’s disease is growing, and the fact that more than 15 million family members and friends currently serve as caregivers for seniors suffering from the condition, this potential breakthrough is a most welcome one. If successful, these tiny amoebas could help bolster an effective and innovative treatment for the currently incurable disease.