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Alzheimer's Research Spotlights Protein 'Tangles' in Brain
Date:7/13/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Several new studies to be presented Tuesday at a major Alzheimer's conference describe progress in a series of immune-based therapies that target the tau protein, one of the two major proteins implicated in Alzheimer's disease.

As a focus of research, tau protein "tangles" have typically taken a backseat to another protein, the beta amyloid plaques that proliferate in the brains of people with Alzheimer's.

However, the new studies suggest that not only do some tau-focused therapies show promise, some treatments targeted against beta amyloid also affect tau.

William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer's Association, called the new results "encouraging."

"These are two landmark lesions associated with Alzheimer's. We had thought that affecting one would affect the other," he said. "This suggests we're getting at the heart of the science, though we still have to show that [these approaches] reduce symptoms."

But another expert added a note of caution.

Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said that although attempts to battle beta amyloid and tau might yield treatment results down the line, both deposits "may be manifestations of the disease and not its origin." That comes back to a basic science question plaguing the Alzheimer's field: Do these protein accumulations actually cause Alzheimer's, or are they merely a result of another process?

Also, only one of the studies presented at the meeting was conducted in humans and only 10 humans at that -- meaning that the results should be considered very preliminary.

Still, scientists continue to unravel the mystery of Alzheimer's and what it does to the brain. There are currently no curative treatments for this form of dementia, which affects millions of people worldwide.


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