Two Promising Studies on Alzheimer’s Disease and ALS

Alzheimer's disease (AD) and ALS are two of the most debilitating neurological diseases a person can endure.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and ALS are two of the most debilitating neurological diseases a person can endure. With approximately 4.5 million people afflicted with AD and approximately 30,000 people with ALS, researchers are hard at work searching for cures for both diseases. Promising results from two studies were published in the October 19 issue of Nature Neuroscience.

Alzheimer’s Disease study

Researchers from the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease (GIND) in San Francisco found that “changing the metabolism of fatty acids could slow cognitive decline in mice afflicted with Alzheimer’s.” Study leader Dr. Lennart Mucke, professor of neurology and neuroscience at GIND, said that “an enzyme that clips off certain fatty acids from lipids in the brain seems to be activated by poisonous proteins [amyloid proteins] that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.” Upon blocking the activation of omega-6 fatty acid (arachidonic acid), learning and memory tasks improved significantly among the mice being studied. While Mucke is optimistic about the results of the study, Samuel Gandy, MD, professor of Alzheimer’s disease research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and chairman emeritus of the National Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the Alzheimer’s Association, thinks that “making and curing mouse models of amyloid-beta toxicity has turned out to be relatively easy, but none of the ‘mouse cures’ have had any meaningful impact on human Alzheimer’s disease.”

What are your thoughts about this study? Do you think it’s a major breakthrough or just another study about Alzheimer’s disease?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Study

This study focused on using a type of stem cell to “slow the degeneration of nerve cells.” Lead researcher Dr. Nicholas Maragakis, neurologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that the study was “designed to target a region where respiratory motor neurons reside—the cervical spinal cord,” since a majority of patients with ALS “die of respiratory failure.” After transplanting diseased nerve cells (astrocytes) with healthy cells, the researchers found that, although the mice were not completely cured, the cells survived in the spinal cord and they lived longer. Maragakis said that using non-neuronal cells as targets for treating ALS “could change traditional treatment and cell-replacement therapies.” Dr. Lucie Brujin, science director and senior vice president of the ALS Association said that “ALS patients are desperate for a therapy. We have to be cautious; this is a laboratory study. It’s a promise, it’s a hope that might be meaningful if there are careful steps to translate it to humans.”

Do you agree with Dr. Brujin’s statement that “ALS patients are desperate for a therapy?”

Additional Resources

ALS Research: Skin Cells Turned into Nerve Cells

Fatty acids clue to Alzheimer’s