Now, a group of unlikely Alzheimer's researchers -- chemical engineers in Texas A&M University's Dwight Look College of Engineering -- are developing new understanding of how the disease robs Alzheimer's sufferers of their memory and reason. They've also found hints of new ways to eventually prevent its onset.
Laboratory studies conducted by chemical engineer Theresa Good, an Assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Ph.D. students Dawn L. Rymer and Steven S. Wang, suggest that Alzheimer's onset and the damage it causes to memory and cognitive abilities are tied to two substances: cholesterol (the same cholesterol doctors say people have too much of) and a complex chemical called ganglioside GM-1 -- found in the brain cells it attacks.
Their work centers on an important characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, a build-up of masses of protein, known as senile plaques. These plaques attach, or bind, to neurons -- specialized cells that allow information to move from place to place in the brain. When the plaques attach to the neurons, it causes a biochemical process to begin that eventually kills the neurons. Loss of neurons is what brings on the disease's characteristic loss of memory and cognitive abilities. High levels of either cholesterol or ganglioside GM-1 seem to make it easy for the plaques to attach to neurons.
The good news is that Good's research also suggests that
reducing the amount of either cholesterol or ganglioside GM-1
interferes with the plaque's ability to attach to the neurons. In
fact, simply reducing the amount of cholesterol in the cells seems to
block attachment by almost all of the
Contact: Mark Evans
Texas A&M University