• Alzheimer's disease is the most prevalent form of dementia
  • It leads to the death of nerve cells and tissue loss throughout the brain
  • Scientists designed a new antibody that targets the protein responsible for the damages

In what appears like a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s disease treatment, researchers have identified a new method to design an antibody that can target the toxic particles which destroy healthy brain cells. Such a discovery is an important step to monitor the progression of the disease, identify the cause, and manage it.

The researchers at the University of Cambridge have collaborated with the University College London and Lund University to design this antibody that recognizes amyloid-beta oligomers which are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. This discovery leads to the hope that new diagnostic methods can be developed for several types of dementia.

“There is an urgent unmet need for quantitative methods to recognize oligomers – which play a major role in Alzheimer’s disease but are too elusive for standard antibody discovery strategies. Through our innovative design strategy, we have now discovered antibodies to recognize these toxic particles,” Professor Michele Vendruscolo from Cambridge’s Centre for Misfolding Diseases, the lead researcher told the University of Cambridge.

Alzheimer’s disease leads to the death of nerve cells and loss of tissues throughout a person’s brain. This could affect their memory and can also lead to personality changes and problems carrying out daily activities.

Abnormal clumps of proteins known as oligomers are identified to be the main cause of dementia. Although proteins are normally responsible for cell functioning, amyloid-beta proteins can kill healthy nerve cells.

Proteins, thus, need to be monitored closely. In case of a failure in the quality control, the proteins misfold and cause a chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells. Such misfolded proteins from abnormal clusters called plaques can build up between brain cells and prevent them from signaling properly.

Also, these dying brain cells could also have twisted protein strands and tangles. This could destroy a vital cell transport system and prevent the movement of nutrients and essential supplies through the cells.

"While the amyloid hypothesis is a prevalent view, it has not been fully validated in part because amyloid-beta oligomers are so difficult to detect, so there are differing opinions on what causes Alzheimer's disease. The discovery of an antibody to accurately target oligomers is, therefore, an important step to monitor the progression of the disease, identify its cause, and eventually keep it under control," Vendruscolo told the University of Cambridge.

The team hopes that their tool will enable the discovery of good drug candidates and also help design better clinical trials for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

1 in 10 people aged 65 and over are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. Statistics show that the number of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s could potentially triple in number by 2050. Alain / Flickr