A study by Dr. O’Donnell at the Brain Institute at UT Southwestern University first portrays the changing nature of a protein molecule (tau molecule) shortly before it begins to stick to itself and begin to form larger clumps. This discovery offers a new strategy for detecting Alzheimer’s catastrophic disease before it even manifests itself in the brain and opens horizons for new treatments that will stabilize t-proteins before they change form.
Diseases of UT Southwestern, and a leading dementia expert, credited with the determination that the t-molecule acts as a “prion” (an infectious protein that can self-replicate).
The study published in the eLife Scientific Review contradicts the previous belief that an isolated t-protein has no distinct shape and is only harmful after it begins to stick with other t-proteins to form the characteristic filamentous accumulations observed in brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Despite the billions of dollars spent on clinical trials for decades, Alzheimer’s disease remains one of the most devastating and troublesome diseases in the world, affecting more than 5 million people, only in the United States.
The next steps in his team are to develop a simple clinical test that examines the patient’s blood or spinal fluid to detect the first biological signs of abnormal t-protein. But equally important, says Dr. Diamond, is that efforts are underway to develop a treatment that would make diagnosis possible.