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Battling Alzheimer's

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As scary as it may sound, the reality is that Alzheimer's is increasinglycommon. It is the most common neurodegenerative disorder and is the leading cause of dementia or forgetfulness in the elderly. If the image of DevrajSahai (Amitabh Bacchan) of Black worried you too, we've got some good news!

In the furious battle against Alzheimer's, neuroscientists have had a major breakthrough. California-based professor, Jorge Palop, has recently published an article in the prestigious journal Neuron discussing the potential of genetic modification of interneurons in the treatment of Alzheimer's.

What the research says?

All our body functions eventually come down to a handful of chemicals and electrical stimuli. Brain is a mesh of neurons, and for our everyday activities, these millions of neurons need to work in a well coordinated manner. Interneurons are cells that play the monitoring role. They are like traffic lights, signaling the excitatory neurons when to stop, when to go. Previous researches on mouse models have proven that these interneurons do not function properly in Alzheimer's. The rhythm of excitatory neurons gets hampered affecting cognitive functions, memory making and may manifest as epileptic fits. In order to restore the normal brain rhythms, the neuroscientists have now found a way to reengineer these interneurons. These improved cells, when transplanted into brains of mice affected with Alzheimer's, restored brain rhythms and could maintain activity of excitatory cells.

Though these interneurons can integrate remarkably well in the brain and one reinforced cell controls thousands of excitatory neurons, the results were abysmal in the initial researches. Since Alzheimer's creates a toxic environment in brain, the remodelled cells might have been destroyed. Thus, at first no benefits were seen.

A new protein to beat Alzheimer’s

The scientists overcame this challenge by reinforcing the inhibitor interneurons with a protein called Nav1.1.    This optimised the cells and enabled them to restore the harmony of brain even in a toxic environment, so as to carry on the normal cognitive functions.

This study has not only opened up newer avenues towards the application of bio engineering and transplantation in regenerative medicine, but also broadened the understanding of the disease. Further, Palop and his team are researching whether the cell therapy could be translated from mice to humans. They are also identifying potential drugs as an alternative way to enhance the function of inhibitory interneurons.

This study has provided another potential therapeutic weapon in the long standing war between quality life and Alzheimer's. Though there is still much uncertainty surrounding Alzheimer and other types of dementia, it's not long before the disease yields its secrets.