New Research Sheds Light on Potential Cause of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is probably one of the more well known diseases in the world. In America alone, one in 10 people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s and it is the 6th leading cause of death. Sadly, the disease can not currently be cured, prevented or slowed. This makes it a devastating experience for sufferers and those around them. 

Due to its current incurability, research into Alzheimer’s is a hot topic. By finding out why the disease occurs, we would be able to treat it. If recent research is to be believed, there could be some hope on the horizon. 

Old hypothesis

Through the progression of the disease, there are two types of protein in particular which accumulate in the brain. One type of protein are called amyloids. Scientists have long suspected that amyloid proteins were one of the causes of Alzheimer’s. As such, the bulk of the research which has gone into the disease was centred around this hypothesis. 

However, one study reports that the failure rate of Alzheimer’s drug development is 99%; against the 13.8% overall success rate for drug development in general reported in another study – or conversely a 86.2% failure rate – this is quite a large difference.

An artist’s interpretation of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the cause of most cases of dementia. Source: geralt.

New hypothesis

Given this large rate of failure, people are looking to other hypotheses. A variety of research groups have all been working on the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis). This was previously known as a risk factor in the development of Alzheimer’s. P. gingivalis is the main bacterium responsible for gum disease.

The team of Casey Lynch – who work as part of Cortexyme, a pharmaceutical firm in San Francisco – gave P. gingivalis gum disease to mice. Upon doing so the mice developed brain infections, amyloid tissue and neural damage in the regions and nerves typically associated with Alzheimer’s. While Lynch suggests causation, others have doubts, including Robert Genco of the University of Buffalo. He said that “future studies need to be in humans to be convincing”. Other evidence does say that having a low number of teeth increased the prevalence of dementia.

While no concrete conclusions have been reached, this new research does tackle the problem of Alzheimer’s from a different direction. It sheds light on the fact that it may not be as dependent on genetics as we once thought. Saying that, it’s also possible that the new evidence is a matter of correlation as suggested by Genco. Right or wrong, we’re at least a step closer to figuring something out.

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Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.