A new study has shed light on a potential way to detect Alzheimer’s disease, and maybe even treat or prevent it, before symptoms even appear. The study, performed at the Department of Pharmacology and Center for Translational Medicine, at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, has found that declines in glucose levels in the brain come before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear. The researchers believe that their discovery may also lead to finding ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease by stopping glucose levels in the brain from dropping in the first place.
For years, researchers and doctors have noticed an association between declining brain glucose levels and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but until now, no one had found direct evidence that the dropping glucose levels are a trigger for cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer’s.
This study was conducted on mice, and the results were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry in January 2017. The research team deprived mice brains of glucose so they could observe the results. As researchers expected, the mice deprived of glucose in their brains showed signs of mental decline that indicated a breakdown of communication between neurons in the brain (or decreased synaptic activity). The same mice also performed worse in maze memory tests than the control mice who were not deprived of glucose. And experienced high levels of phosphorylated tau proteins and increased cell death, both which are indicators of Alzheimer’s disease progression.
Another interesting finding of theirs was that p38, a protein the body makes in response to low glucose levels, may be used to develop a drug that can prevent the onset of the cognitive decline associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. They believe that providing the body with p38 could slow or even stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease – even before symptoms have started – because it might prevent declining brain glucose levels. The study authors recommend further research into the effect p38 could have in disease prevention.
Lead researcher, Dr. Domenico Praticò gave a statement saying, “The findings are very exciting. There is now a lot of evidence to suggest that p38 is involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.” You can learn more about the study online.
While this test was performed on mice, and there’s a lot of research and testing to be done on humans before a treatment could be available, the results do give hope that Alzheimer’s disease could be detected before symptoms appear and could potentially be prevented altogether.
If you or your loved one struggles with dementia, check out our top three tips on communicating with seniors who have dementia.