Leuven − VIB scientists connected to the K.U.Leuven have identified a molecule that can form the basis for a new therapy for Alzheimer's disease. This is the first step toward a medicine that could actually stop the progress of Alzheimer's. Existing medicines can at best limit the loss of memory during the first phases of the disease. The authoritative journal Science is publishing the results of this research. A first step, however, is still a long way from an approved drug − even if everything goes well, it will be another 15 years before the medicine becomes available.
Alzheimer's disease is the most prevalent form of dementia in the Western world. The disease's harmful effects on memory and mental functioning make it one of the most terrifying syndromes. It is estimated that, by 2010, our country will have more than 150,000 Alzheimer's patients. At present, this disease is still incurable. Today's medicines for Alzheimer's patients sustain the memory functions for a short time, but they do not stop the brain's cells from dying off.
Plaques and the γ-secretase complex
A typical characteristic of the brains of Alzheimer's patients is the presence of amyloid plaques, which are abnormal accumulations of the β-amyloid protein between the neurons. The sticky β-amyloid arises when the amyloid precursor protein is cut into pieces incorrectly.
The γ-secretase complex − which cuts proteins at a specific place − plays a major role in the creation of these plaques. However, this complex (group of proteins that work together) is also involved in the regulation of a series of other essential proteins such as Notch, which plays a crucial role in the development of an embryo. This is why many of the medicines in development that act on the whole γ-secretase complex run up against toxic side effects.
|Contact: Evy Vierstraete|
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)