The Comedian, Dennis Miller, recently told a story on the radio. Years ago, he was performing in Las Vegas, when he received a dinner invitation from Frank Sinatra. Before they met, Mr. Miller ran into Don Rickles and asked how Mr. Sinatra was doing. Mr. Rickles said that Sinatra was OK, but that “he had Sicilian Alzheimer’s”. Miller asked what that was. Mr. Rickles replied “he only remembers the grudges”.
Though some very interesting new research in the Alzheimer’s area has been introduced from the United States, if I do find some reports of similar research out of Sicily, I will write about it.
The main story
In the meantime, conventional thinking over the past century has been that Alzheimer’s Disease results, at least in part, from a buildup of Amyloid Plaque (AP). AP forms in our brains for a variety of reasons, as we age. So far, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Millions of people across North America are afflicted with Alzheimer’s and demographic statistics suggest that it will worsen in the coming years.
A study was published, earlier this month, in the (American) Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, from the University of Cincinnati, in collaboration with the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
The researchers started with the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s may be partly a result of a decreasing level of soluble amyloid-beta in the brain, rather than from a buildup, in the brain, of AP.
The researchers explain that we all have soluble amyloid-beta in our brains. A protein, it performs important functions in our brains on an ongoing basis. These proteins can, over time, from biological, metabolic or infectious stress, harden or transform into AP.
Apparently, this transformation of amyloid-beta proteins into AP happens to all of us. However, the researchers say, few of us actually develop Alzheimer’s.
Last month, research, from different group, on a medication called Lecanemab, produced significant results in the treatment of mild cognitive impairment. What Lecanemab appears to accomplish is to slow the decline in cognitive function. The study will be presented at an Alzheimer’s Congress next month, in San Francisco. It is a promising medication but it provides, arguably, more of a short term remedy. The question might be asked whether this slowing of decline will have the same impact on a person as will increasing the levels of soluble amyloid-beta in a person.
The researchers from University of Cincinnati and the Karolinska Institute have noted that, in some clinical trials, where the levels of soluble amyloid-beta were reduced, patients’ cognitive conditions worsened. In fact, their own previous research found that, regardless of the buildup of AP in the brain, persons with high levels of soluble amyloid-beta, remained cognitively normal. Persons with lower levels of the protein were shown to be more likely to have cognitive impairment.
The researchers found that persons who could generate a soluble amyloid-beta level of at least 270 picograms per milliliter in their brains, could remain cognitively normal, regardless the level of AP in their brains.
Interestingly, similar research is ongoing in the areas of Parkinsons Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
With respect to Parkinson’s Disease, there is in the human brain a normal soluble protein called alpha-synuclein, that can harden into a “deposit” or “plaque” known as Lewy body. The thinking is that Parkinson’s may not necessarily be caused by the buildup of Lewy bodies but instead by the decreasing levels of the soluble alpha-synuclein in the brain.
For society, it is profound that these terrible diseases that afflict so many, and cost us so much, might be controllable by an approach involving the increasing of soluble protein levels in the brain, rather than by slowing the buildup of plaques or abnormal proteins. It is promising and I hope it gives affected persons, and their families, hope.
For all of us, it is critical to try and stay informed, whether via Television news, print media or your Doctor. In the meantime, don’t delay your Estate planning or go to your Pharmacy and stand in line just yet! This kind of research will take more time.
It may be that we are getting a little closer to bringing these Diseases under some control (and I think we can conclude that there is likely no geographic element to Alzheimer’s, whether in Sicily or any other parts of the world!).