November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: Are we winning or losing the war on Alzheimer’s Disease?November 7, 2010 // 0 Comments
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder named for German physician Alois Alzheimer, who first described it in 1906.
As many as 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and problems with thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies, family life, and social relationships.
With the disease now being detected in adults in their 30′s and 40′s, we have to ask:
Is science winning or losing the battle against Alzheimer’s? (Which is now the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.)
“The public’s growing awareness about Alzheimer’s is helping to accelerate our research efforts,” says neuroscience researcher Mark Underwood, president of the Madison, Wisconsin-based biotech company, Quincy Bioscience.
Underwood says recent work in the laboratory has produced encouraging results in the war on Alzheimer’s.
“We’ve discovered that ‘calcium overload’ within the neurons causes those neurons to stop functioning and brings about cognitive impairment and symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s,” says Underwood.
“Knowing this link allows us to postulate that an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s could be as simple as devising a process to remove the excess calcium ions from calcium-overloaded neurons and thereby restore normal neuronal function.”
Underwood says Quincy’s own study confirmed that cognitive function could be improved by lowering neuronal calcium concentrations with a “calcium binding” protein found in jellyfish.
Underwood says a key difference between normal, healthy individuals and those with Alzheimer’s disease is the rate at which healthy neurons become overloaded with calcium.
“Humans are born able to manufacture their own calcium-binding proteins but we gradually stop producing them at about age 40, and that’s when our neurons start to weaken and we begin to experience mild memory loss,” says Underwood. “Those with Alzheimer’s apparently stop producing these proteins at a faster rate so their cognitive impairment occurs with greater velocity.”
Underwood says he is confident that a drug for Alzheimer’s can be developed incorporating the jellyfish calcium-binding protein.
“We have shown that normal adults can improve their memory, focus, and concentration by lowering their neuronal calcium,” says Underwood. “We are very optimistic that the same compound can now be tested on Alzheimer’s patients to assess their level of cognitive improvement.”
Mark Underwood is neuroscience researcher and co-founder and president of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin, focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of new medicines to treat age-related memory loss and the diseases of aging. The company’s therapeutic products focus on alleviating the consequences of impaired calcium homeostasis – the imbalance of calcium ions thought to be related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (www.quincybioscience.com).
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