This syllogises our knowledge of AD which began by a German, Alois Alzheimer, who was born in 1864. In later years, after he obtained a medical degree, he studied a progressive short term memory loss in Auguste Deter, a 51 year old woman; this was the virtual genesis of the discovery of AD. The cause in the form of amyloid plaques observed near brain cells did not enlighten the medical world any further on the disease. The build up of plaques near cells had, at least, provided one vital clue. Two scientists of present times, have a contrapuntal combination. One of them has the vision, or ambition, and the other scientist works on finer details. Both qualities have enabled them to work in tandem. A renewed level of research has been initiated by Rudolf Tanzi and Yeon Kim. Tanzi is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. An eminent personality in study and research related to AD. He seriously considered a musical career as a pianist before embarking onto science. He asserts that working as a scientist keeps his brain wonderfully engaged and at day end he plays the piano to calm his mind ‘ after hours of concentration.’
Both Tanzi and Kim have devised a revolutionary tool for treating AD. The journal, Nature, reports that this new tool for AD is based on cell culture and is the most promising laboratory model yet invented for this neurodegenerative disease. It allows one to track the course of AD in biochemical and genetic detail and to quickly test many potential treatments that could slow down the disease’s malign process. The new discovery in their research has been nicknamed “ Alzheimer’s in a dish.” Colonies of genetically manipulated human brain cells are grown in a gel. Some days later these cells display significant indications of AD by the presence of plaques and tangles. Tangles appear like twisted wire within brain cells. It was the same diagnostic defects that Alois Alzheimer observed over a century ago, when he viewed them though a microscope. Until now scientists were unsuccessful in generating both elements of the disorder in a laboratory study. In mice tests were unsuccessful because only plaques were formed and not tangles. Hitherto, tests were being conducted only on plaques which essentially meant an incomplete ‘half’ test. That has changed now by simulating actual amyloids, or clumped up protein, in a gel that begins to form both plaques and tangles outside brain cells.
Tanzi’s inspirational career has also crystallised in identifying almost all major genes associated with AD. This disease is related to chronic forgetfulness, repeating questions, losing things, anxiety or unable to find one’s way home. On the other side of the coin, Tanzi is gifted with an exceptional memory. He can remember papers he had studied twenty years ago. He can, with amazing accuracy, recall footnotes written in those papers. Tanzi encourages people to use one’s brain in a proactive manner and to inspire oneself to motivate the brain to help one with new ideas. These thoughts have been articulated in two books which Tanzi has written in collaboration with another luminary-Deepak Chopra. The books are: Super Brain and Super Genes. To keep the brain in sound condition, he advises seven to eight hours sleep every night, physical exercise at some point during the day and a Mediterranean diet with plenty of vegetables, olive oil and moderate consumption of proteins.
Currently, Tanzi is researching the equivalent of statins, or, drugs to inhibit plaques in the brain, similar to statins which clear plaque from blood vessels. He is working with Cure Alzheimer’s fund on an initiative that will screen virtually every FDA approved drug. He will monitor the response of the drug on plaques and tangles. To identify an appropriate drug is a matter of time, which we hope will be sooner rather than later. Tanzi and his colleagues are pursuing this research to treat the most complex organ of all-the brain, which in turn will treat Alzheimer’s. A major leap for medical science, after a century.
By Deepak Rikhye