84-Year-Old Scientist Discovers Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Target

Alzheimer’s disease has certainly had its share of news recently, and a new discovery by an 84-year-old scientist just added new hopes that new treatments could delay or halt the onset of the disease. Dr. Paul Greengard identified a new protein that activates gamma-secretase, responsible for making beta-amyloid, the characteristic plaque that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The research is published September 2, 2010 in Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science. Alzheimer's research

Dr. Greengard has studied Alzheimer’s disease for more than 25 years, after discovering that his father-in-law had the disease, according to a report from The New York Times. His work is funded by a philanthropic organization and federal government grants.

This discovery is promising for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers can now develop new pharmaceutical treatments that specifically inhibit the gamma-secretase activating protein, potentially blocking the formation of the plaques that cause the disease. An effective treatment would mean a huge victory in the field of medicine and for the many families who struggle with the disease. Alzheimer’s care costs are skyrocketing, so many families attempt to care for their loved ones on their own. The stress of caregiving and coping with role changes can quickly take its toll. 

Dr. Paul Aisen of the University of California, San Diego, says Greengard’s work is strong and convincing, noting that it creates a truly new approach to treating the disease. There are currently about 100 drugs undergoing clinical trials that hope to alter the course of Alzheimer’s disease, and about 200 papers are published weekly. There is certainly no shortage of interest in discovering an effective treatment for this devastating and as-of-yet incurable disease.

Current treatments focus on gamma-secretase, but this enzyme is believed to be responsible for other important roles in the body, such as fighting infection. Blocking the enzyme would cease the production of plaque-forming beta-amyloid, but it is likely to cause other harmful effects. But the gamma secretase activating protein discovered by Dr. Greengard plays no other role in the body other than telling gamma secretase to create beta-amyloid, so completely blocking this enzyme would theoretically halt the production of brain plaques without affecting other body systems.

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