Preventive Measures May Be the Best Option for Fighting Alzheimer’s

Family Visiting Sick Grandmother in Nursing HomeDementia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions related to memory loss in the elderly now affect millions of people, and their prevalence shows no sign of slowing down.

While attempts at finding a cure have proved to be fruitless, a faction of Alzheimer’s researchers is now focusing their efforts on preventing the onset of this illness rather than ridding it after it’s already manifested.

According to the Detroit Free Press, a new study reported on by the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter and researchers at Rush University in Chicago, Illinois, may have developed a diet plan that could reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

The thinking behind this method is that boosting brain health with better eating habits could in turn ward off the disease. They combined aspects of the Mediterranean-style diet with the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH), which has already been associated with brain benefits.

The product was the Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which consists mostly of plant-based foods, berries, fish, less animal and high saturated fats, and even one daily serving of alcohol.

“Those with the highest MIND diet scores were 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with the lowest scores,” Tufts reported.

“We must consider that the strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free,” says Hunter K. Anstine, Director, Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. “This effort has been wildly successful and while Alzheimer’s disease is not an infection a similar approach may now be possible considering the astonishing breakthrough coming from BU. Carmella Abraham’s team has discovered a new way to combat Abeta. Rather than eliminating it from the brain, they found a compound that can prevent the body from making the protein altogether. We are all hopeful that this tremendous breakthrough could lead us to meaningful prevention.”

This is a relatively easy lifestyle change to make with promising results. However, some scientists have opted to search for preventative measures more directly on the molecular level.

A report by BU Today discusses scientists fighting a protein called amyloid-beta, or Abeta. In a brain suffering from dementia, sticky strands of Abeta will clump together, forming a plaque that chokes and kills nerve cells.

While finding therapies to clear the existing proteins from the brain failed, a team of scientists led by Carmella Abraham, a professor of biochemistry at the School of Medicine, has discovered a new way to combat Abeta. Rather than eliminating it from the brain, they found a compound that can prevent the body from making the protein altogether.

Abraham’s team, along with Harvard’s Laboratory for Drug Discovery in Neurodegeneration, screened 77,000 molecules thought to affect amyloid precursor proteins (APP), the larger proteins that get chopped up by enzymes into Abeta. They then narrowed it down to one promising molecule called a kinase inhibitor; these block the enzymes called kinases, which are present in most cellular processes.

“This was the big eureka moment,” said Abraham. “Once we knew what the molecule was doing, we could search to see what kinase it inhibits and better understand the mechanism.”

Even though finding a cure for those already suffering from Alzheimer’s may still be far away, developing preventative measures could save countless lives in the future.