New Approach May Allow Doctors to Attack Alzheimer's Protein

About 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. If no therapies are found soon, that number is expected to triple by 2050, at which point the cost of care could top $2 trillion. Evan Vucci/AP

This article originally appeared on Medical Daily.

We don't completely understand the pathology behind Alzheimer's, one of America's most deadly diseases, but we do know that proteins called amyloid-β peptide play a major role in how it develops. For years, scientists have tried to target these proteins, and halt the disease's progression. Now, a new study published online in Journal of the American Chemical Society suggests they may be closer than ever.

According to the study, researchers from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea have created a "metal-based substance that works like a pair of genetic scissors to cut out amyloid-β (Aβ), the hallmark protein" of Alzheimer's, according to a statement on ScienceDaily. Unlike past approaches that aimed to cut out amyloid-β peptide using metals, this process works in living cell experiments. These results suggest the technique has potential as a new treatment to reduce the toxicity of amyloid beta (Aβ) in patients' brains.

"This material has a high therapeutic potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease as it can penetrate the brain-vascular barrier and directly interact with the amyloid-beta protein in the brain," says study co-author Mi Hee Lim, in the statement.

The Alzheimer's Association reports that Alzheimer's is a type of dementia and leads to problems with memory, thinking and behavior. More than 5 million Americans are living with it, and about one in three seniors with the condition will die from it. It is the sixth leading cause of death among older Americans and kills more people than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.

Amyloid proteins sometimes clump together and may form plaques. According to the Alzheimer's Association, these small clumps may block cell-to-cell signaling at synapses and can also activate immune system cells that trigger inflammation and devour disabled cells. Eventually vital nutrients can no longer reach the cells and they die. These behaviors help to contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer's, and further the disease's progression. Being able to directly affect these proteins could lead to a potential treatment, and help improve the quality of life for the millions living with the disease and their families.