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Have Arizona scientists discovered an Alzheimer’s breakthrough?

(Flickr/EvaSwensen)
LISTEN: An Alzheimer's Breakthrough from ASU-Banner

PHOENIX — A group of Arizona scientists believe they identified a compound that could block a protein that causes early damage to the brain’s memory chamber, essentially slamming the brakes on Alzheimer’s.

Scientists at the Arizona State University-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center identified the protein as the Oligomeric-Amyloid-Beta, which is believed to go after mitochondria in the hippocampus, where memory is generated.

The protein attaches itself to cells — which are important to the brain and body and consume an incredible amount of energy to do their job with the brain’s communicative functions — and works to destroy them.

Scientists believe the Oligomeric-Amyloid-Beta is the single bad actor that enables Alzheimer’s to take hold — and ultimately destroy — the brain.

“We know that Alzheimer’s disease starts in our 30s and 40s,” said Dr. Diego Mastroeni, a scientist and researcher at ASU-Banner. “These are some the earliest changes in the mitochondria. Can we do something to protect the mitochondria?”

The answer, according to Mastroeni, is yes.

Sidney Hecht, a researcher with the ASU Biodesign Institute, came up with a compound that would destroy the Oligomeric-Amyloid-Beta and protect mitochondrial cell function.

“When this chemical compound came in, it showed incredible results,” Mastroeni said.

“By slowing down this disease, by inhibiting the toxic species of [the Oligomeric-Amyloid-Beta], maybe we have a chance, maybe we can give people 10 to 15 years before they get the [Alzheimer’s] symptoms,” he added.

Mastroeni said he hopes this research can be used to treat people, such as with an over-the-counter medication that would block the effects of Alzheimer’s “until it’s so late in life that it really doesn’t matter.”

“Protecting the mitochondria might be a very nice way of protecting ourselves. — not only from neurodegenerative diseases, but all aging diseases, and not just the brain but the body too,” he said.

“It’s such an important compound for every biological process.”

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