Another expert agreed.
David Lynn is a Howard Hughes Institute investigator and professor of biological chemistry at Emory University in Atlanta. "I think that Brian's paper argues that [scientists] have been missing the boat here," he said. "It's not clear that you are ever going to get the concentrations that you need of these agents at the right site to be able to have any therapeutic intervention."
On the level of basic chemistry, attacking Alzheimer's and other protein-clumping diseases by preventing amyloid from concentrating has "always been a long shot," Lynn said. That's because amyloid proteins are incredibly "sticky," chemically speaking.
"To find things that will competitively stick and stop them from assembling is theoretically hard to imagine," Lynn said. It was thought that individual molecules of amyloid inhibitors might do so, but the new finding -- that the molecules inevitably bind together in a more impractical mass -- renders them therapeutically useless.
But other avenues of Alzheimer's research remain promising, Lynn said.
"There are certainly other strategies that have potential," he noted, including antibody-focused strategies aimed at eliminating plaques, or treatments focused on easing the downstream effects of amyloid buildup.
Both scientists stressed that it's still not certain whether protein plaques even cause Alzheimer's and other brain diseases, or whether they are merely byproducts of the disease process. "That's really another open area of research," Shoichet said.
"The problem with these diseases is that it is such a moving target," Lynn said. "And so, different people are looking at different things."
There's much more on Alzheimer's disease at the Alzheimer's Association.
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