Carrillo noted that these results also confirm that the disease starts developing 10 to 15 years before it is diagnosed. This understanding could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating the illness, she added.
"Perhaps future therapeutics attacking oligomers instead of plaques would be a strategy," Carrillo said.
One expert did have some reservations about that possibility, however.
"The larger unresolved issue is how these oligomers relate to people where plaques accumulate many years prior to disease onset," said Greg M. Cole, professor of medicine and neurology and associate director of the UCLA Alzheimer's Center. "One would expect the little oligomer aggregates to arise prior to the bigger plaque aggregates, that is, decades before important memory problems [surface]."
That could mean that "targeting oligomers may work best for prevention," rather than the treatment of existing disease, he said. "Ongoing efforts to track and specifically target the oligomers in clinical trials with memory deficit patients should soon tell us how much good we can do hitting the oligomers. It may be a huge success or too little, too late."
For more information on Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association.
SOURCES: Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., professor, neurology and psychiatry, associate director, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; Greg M. Cole, Ph.D., professor of medicine and neurology, associate director, Alzheimer's Center, University of California, Los Angeles; Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., senior director of medical and scientific relations, Alzheimer's Association; April 14, 2010, Annals of Neurology
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