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article imageResearchers try to detect Alzheimer’s disease early

By Tim Sandle     Jun 9, 2016 in Science
Scientists have developed a method for the earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The method may be able to detect the neurodegenerative condition up to two decades earlier than current assessments.
The new method looks for changes taking place in the brain. This relates to brain cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes are star-shaped glial cells found in the brain and spinal cord. The cells perform several functions, such as providing nutrients to the nervous tissue and they have a role following traumatic injuries. Due to the new and merging applications, these cells are a trending topic through various science-related tweets.
A small scale study has placed astrocytes at the center of Alzheimer’s disease detection. The study was performed on 52 people, who were selected because they carried genetic mutations associated with an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study participants were examined through exercises, such as memory tests; and brain scans using positron emission tomography devices and radioactive tracers injected into the subjects.
By putting that data into computer models, the scientists saw an unexpected relationship. The scans showed that in the at risk subjects early deposits of amyloid appeared up to 17 years before expected onset of symptom emerged. It was also found that astrocyte cells increased in number, in an attempt to combat the plaque build-up.
Speaking with The Daily Telegraph, lead researcher Professor Agneta Nordberg explains further: “Astrocyte activation peaks roughly 20 years before the expected symptoms and then goes into decline, in contrast to the accumulation of amyloid plaques, which increases constantly over time until clinical symptoms show.”
The study, undertaken at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, puts forward that an increase with astrocytes signals a physiological response to a build-up of amyloid fragments. Amyloid plaques are considered to be the causative agent of Alzheimer’s disease, where the plaques damage brain tissue.
It is hoped the new research provides a way of detecting the disease early and perhaps an indication of how to develop new therapies. As well as amyloid plaques, the disorder is also associated with molecules called tau proteins. These function to keep vital nutrients flowing to neurons. It thought degeneration occurs when these proteins become caught up and this blocks proper cell functioning. The research group also wish to explore this phenomenon in relation to the astrocyte cells.
The research is published in Nature Scientific Reports, in a paper titled “Early astrocytosis in autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease measured in vivo by multi-tracer positron emission tomography.”
More about Alzheimers Disease, neurodeg, Astrocytes, Cells
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