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Brain Implants Relieve Alzheimer's Damage

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the wired-reflexes-next dept.

Biotech 143

Genetically engineered cells implanted in mice have cleared away toxic plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. The animals were sickened with a human gene that caused them to develop, at an accelerated rate, the disease that robs millions of elderly people of their memories. After receiving the doctored cells, the brain-muddling plaques melted away. If this works in humans, old age could be a much happier time of life.

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143 comments

It's a great time to be a mouse... (5, Funny)

edashofy (265252) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406141)

It's a fantastic time to be a mouse. Mouse with cancer? No problem. Mouse with alzheimers? No problem. Mouse with diabetes? Go ahead and have that Snicker bar, we have the cure for what ails ya.

Re:It's a great time to be a mouse... (1)

D-Cypell (446534) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406247)

Yeah! Say what you like about Disney, their health cover is second to none!

Re:It's a great time to be a mouse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20407619)

whats the leading cause of death of white mice?

scientists.

Re:It's a great time to be a mouse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20410295)

Pharmaceutical research laboratories.

Re:It's a great time to be a mouse... (2, Informative)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408449)

Yes there is some truth to that. Mice and rats have been used to demonstrate some amazing medical therapies that either turn out not to be as effective with humans or never make it that far. This story is promising, but one should consider that there are a lot of steps especially with something like this. You don't put genetically engineered cells into a live human brain before going through a real real real lot of animal/cell culture/simulation/biochemical studies... And when that's all said and done it would certainly be an issue of only being tested on certain humans, within very tight study and ethics board guidelines. Still... hopefully someday it could lead to some sort of therapy for everyone.

Re:It's a great time to be a mouse... (2, Informative)

eam (192101) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409645)

Not that it changes the situation that much, but they're actually talking about taking skin cells from the patient, genetically modifying them, then putting them back in the patient's skin. No brain surgery required, and if it works out badly the removal is probably easier than removing a wart.

Re:It's a great time to be a mouse... (2, Informative)

eam (192101) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409723)

Of course, the web site got it wrong, too. The title says "Brain implants", but the article specifies skin implants.

See, it isn't only slashdot editors that screw up.

Of course, I'm assuming the editor of the Harvard University Gazette decided on the title for the article. It would be more disturbing if the author of the article didn't know enough about what he wrote to get the title right.

The best news (4, Insightful)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406153)

I'm normally quite sarcastic when posting.

Not now. Alzheimer's Disease is one of the most horrifying maladies faced in societies where people live long enough to suffer from it.

I hope that this research pans out into practical treatment. Being betrayed by the body is terrible enough later in life.

Re:The best news (0, Redundant)

Trillan (597339) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406257)

I've had a couple relatives go this way. Definitely something I wouldn't wish on anyone. This needs to become a practical treatment.

what so horrifying about it? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20406311)

You don't feel any "suffering", and even if you did,you wouldn't remember it.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (3, Insightful)

mce (509) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406337)

Oh yes you do. Maybe not any more by the time you're almost completely gone. And also not when it all first starts (slowly). But in between there is a period when you're aware of what's happening and still lucid enough to understand. That phase is the true torture period for the person affected.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406357)

Yes, you do as it's a gradual disease. Before you've totally lost it, you'll be aware and often very depressed from it too. Not to mention how sad it is for the relatives to see someone's personality go away like this.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (1)

Palpitations (1092597) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408251)

In the past, I've worked in group homes for those with developmental and other disabilities. Our clients had ailments ranging from muscular dystrophy, to Tourette's, to Down's Syndrome, to echolalia, to schizophrenia, to Alzheimer's, to a huge range of other things (typically a combination of some of the above). I worked with them 40 hours a week, day in and day out. My duties included the basic day to day care of these folks. Bathing them. Giving them showers. Dressing them. Cooking for them, or connecting their feeding tubes if they were unable to eat solid foods. Making sure they took their meds. And being there for them when they were confused or upset, and needed someone. To put a personal touch on my comments - my parents were basically too busy to care for me. and my grandmother essentially raised me. In recent years, she has had several small strokes, and is now dealing with Alzhiemer's. My experience is limited, I will admit that. But I have seen more than most. Alzhiemer's is a horrible condition. But I have never seen anyone feel depressed from it for more than a few hours at a time. Paranoid? Upset? Certainly. Confused? Almost always. Even hostile at times. But depression seems to be limited to very brief amounts of time... And once it passes, the people I've had contact with have never had any memories of feeling bad. I don't mean to belittle the feelings of those who suffer from what is, by all accounts, a horrible disease. But in all honesty, depression is something that seems to be much more common in those close to the people who are actually suffering the disease itself. Most people I have known who have had Alzhiemer's could be best described as ambivalent. Of course, your mileage my vary.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (1)

Palpitations (1092597) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408279)

Damn it. Sorry for responding to myself. I just wanted to appologize for the wall of text. Too much time on other forums where I don't need to put in the line break tags has me slacking today

I blame the 11 beers prior to my post, and my lack of the ability to use the preview button :(

Mod parent -1 sucks at formatting.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (2, Insightful)

vidarh (309115) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408911)

If you have worked in group homes, you have mostly seen people in the late stages of Alzheimers, not the often years of declining faculties that go before that, when memory has still not gone so much that they can't function and work around it, but with the downside that many of them constantly still know exactly what is happening to them.

Alzheimers is associated with a lot of depression and also with a lot of really aggressive behavior for those reasons.

Neither of my grandmothers seemed depressed about it for long after they were diagnosed. But by then they'd started declining so rapidly, and lost so much of their memory, that they were essentially "gone" - their lives were reduced to five minute sliding windows of attention combined with some remnants of their long term memory, and they quickly lost that too.

Those weren't the horrible years for them. They five or so years before that were the bad ones, and we only realized how bad it was once we got the diagnosis and started thinking back to how they'd behaved over those preceding years.

But for both of them they were terrified for weeks or months around the time when their functional level got so low that they needed to be taken into care. My grandfather on my moms side had to struggle for a couple of months to get my grandmother to agree to even see a doctor when they both knew what was happening, and had to struggle for further weeks to get her admitted, as she kept refusing.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (3, Insightful)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406559)

You don't feel any "suffering", and even if you did,you wouldn't remember it.

First off, that's not exactly true, as a couple other commenters have indicated.

Secondly: it's not all about you. I said it's a terrible disease for society. That means not only the people who descend into grey terrors and death, but the loved ones who must bear with them through their suffering. People who will never suffer from Alzheimer's benefit from this research as well.

Re:what so horrifying about it? (1)

leenks (906881) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408789)

My father in law was diagnosed 4 years ago with it. At the time he was still driving, but he was forgetting things, and shortly afterwards he lost the ability to speak coherently. Now he can't speak *at all*, he cannot feed or dress himself, he cannot walk, use the toilet, etc. However, he has flashes where he's quite obviously there - he'll call you over and point at your chin and then tap your nose etc. So he probably does know what situation he's in - he certainly did when it was diagnosed and in the stages leading up to his current condition. Massively degrading.

Horrifying for whom? (1, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406423)

Sure early Alzheimers must be a bit frustrating for the sufferer, but this is tempered by a loss of cognitive function (ie. you don't necessarily realise that you have the condition). It is probaly far more horrifying for the people who remember Jim being all bright and sharp but now see him dulled.M

I'd think that a stroke or other direct physical impediment must be far more frustrating for the actual sufferer.

Increasing Alzheimers is mostly a result of keeping people alive longer. No matter how age care progresses, there will always be a weakest link. The designed lifetime of the human body is being exceeded. Perhaps we should allow people to die earlier with dignity.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (4, Insightful)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406531)

Sure early Alzheimers must be a bit frustrating for the sufferer, but this is tempered by a loss of cognitive function (ie. you don't necessarily realise that you have the condition).
In my secondhand experience, that is only a consolation once the disease is terminal. Before that point lies a great deal of suffering spread out over years, without any hope for even a partial rehabilitation.

Perhaps we should allow people to die earlier with dignity.

Death with dignity is an important right. To me, it's almost as compelling as the possibility of living longer with dignity. That's why this research is so important.

Horrifying thought (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406791)

3 Billion men alert vital and virile well into their 100's. That should be good for the planet.

Not that I would turn it down myself...

Re:Horrifying thought (2, Insightful)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407223)

3 Billion men alert vital and virile well into their 100's. That should be good for the planet.
We're already at 3 billion men (and over 3 billion women, for that matter.) "Vital" and "virile" might be a longshot, and unrelated to the research in question, but "alert" (or "not senile") probably wouldn't be a negative.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (1)

Joe Tie. (567096) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407557)

In my secondhand experience, that is only a consolation once the disease is terminal. Before that point lies a great deal of suffering spread out over years, without any hope for even a partial rehabilitation.

Same here. You'll almost never see the reality of it from the media though. It's always just bemused, confused, funny old folks. My Grandmother has it, and it's convinced me that I'm going to eat a bullet if I'm able if and when I come anywhere near that state. She lives in a state of near permanent terror and paranoia when not drugged up, and when, not that much better.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (4, Insightful)

Trogre (513942) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406627)

How about spending every day convinced that you're eight years old, and that your (long dead) parents have abandoned you in a strange place?

Re:Horrifying for whom? (5, Insightful)

wytcld (179112) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406821)

you don't necessarily realise that you have the condition
Have you known anyone with it? You might not realize at first why something is wrong, but you see that others are treating you as if it is. It doesn't just strike the elderly; there's an early-onset variety. You lose your job because you're losing track of details too often. Shopkeepers start to realize they can get away with shortchanging you. Your car keys become more lost at home, more often, and when you drive you get more lost, more often. When you do become convinced something serious is going wrong, the doctors tell you that it could, perhaps be Alzheimers. But they have no sure way of diagnosing it prior to an autopsy. Your health insurance company - if you didn't lose that with your job - contests your claim because your doctors can't produce a definite diagnosis. Maybe you're just depressed? Maybe you're just a malingerer? Keeping track of the details needed to contest their denials becomes almost impossibly complex for you. Some days, you start to forget to eat. Other days, you're almost your normal self. The amazing plasticity of the brain allows you to mimic normal function socially well enough that some friends don't really see anything wrong. But you've got an awful feeling there is.

If you want Alzheimers patients "to die earlier with dignity" then you'll have to start killing them, like witches, at the first sign. Because for most of them it's the first thing to seriously go wrong. And for most of them it develops very, very slowly, sliding down a slope where by the time you might wish they'd say "Kill me now, please," any such rational choice is finally behind them.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (2)

HeroreV (869368) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407231)

Perhaps we should allow people to die earlier with dignity.
If people didn't have such strong irrational hang-ups about suicide, that would be the best answer. Live as long as you possibly can until something like Alzheimers comes along, and then wack yourself. You avoid the long terrible death associated with living too long, while still having a longer life.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (4, Insightful)

Squarewav (241189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407851)

Sadly Hollywood and TV make it look like Alzheimer's is nothing more then memory loss.

I live with my parents now to take care of my dad who has early onset late stage Alzheimer's. he most def knows something is wrong with him. He is unable to speak and it frustrates him to no end. He can't find the bathroom and we (me and my mom) have to figure out that he needs it and lead him to it. Even the most basic things like putting on his pants is a nightmarish exp for him.

Its not the watching some one fade away that makes things hard on the family. Its watching someone exp hell on earth and not being able to do a damn thing about it

Re:Horrifying for whom? (5, Insightful)

NoPantsJim (1149003) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408221)

My grandfather passed away from Alzheimer's complications this Summer after living on his own for around 5 years. He sure as hell knew he had it. As recently as last October he was still in amazing physical shape, running daily to the gym, working out like a maniac, and running back to his home. Even at his old age, he could still do more pull ups than I can at 22 (and I'm no slouch, 28 palms forward from dead hang, he beat me with 33).

We noticed the first signs around Christmas. He began to act in an odd way and mixed up some of our names. We insisted he go to a doctor, who then told us he was so far along in the disease that he must have been suffering from it for at least a year. When we confronted him about it he told us he was embarrassed and did not want us to take his freedom away. It was amazing how quickly he declined in the next few months.

I was always very close with him, he actually bought me the truck I currently drive and has helped pay for some of my college. The last time I saw him he didn't know who I was, and asked me to tell him about myself. I talked to him for around four hours recounting my life and the times we had spent together. At the end he started crying because he said he wanted to remember my parents and me, but couldn't. When we left that day he told us he didn't want to live anymore, and died three days later.

The reason Alzheimer's is such a horrific disease is because it is such a tarnish on the life of the individual. My grandfather was in the Navy during World War II. He was an officer and was actually present in the room during the signing of the official surrender terms on the USS Missouri on V-J day. He spent the next 15 years as a stock car racer, and then owned a chain of mechanics shops for 20 years. He raised three successful children and had several grandchildren he was very close with. But when he died, he had absolutely zero recollection of any of this.

I just know that I don't want to go out and achieve all of my goals in life only to reach an age at which I cannot recall any of them.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20408537)

Who is the idiot who moderated this seriously?
He has a totally valid point, it's likely the sufferer ISN'T the one who is 'suffering' but more family (hell practically everyone says that)

As for allowing people to die earlier with dignity he's discussing euthenasia another taboo subject our governments have it backwards on.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (4, Insightful)

rilister (316428) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408719)

wow, that's a shockingly ignorant statement. Commenting on Slashdot on graphic cards when you no nothing about it is one thing, but on fatal diseases is a different kind of thing, dude.

A 'bit frustrating'? Most people are diagnosed a year or so into onset, but there's no real way of knowing when the disease starts. For many patients, there's literally (like, 5) years of knowing a) you have a disease that is 100% fatal and that you will gradually forget the names and faces of the people you love. b) you will eventually become a terrible burden on those same people, you will treat them badly and they will get to watch as you regress to less than a child. c) gradually losing all the mental faculties that you take for granted every day, knowing exactly why for several years.

It's terrible, frightening death sentence where the patient's personality is dismantled piece-by-piece, moving slowly to death, with their families watching helplessly on.

I've worked with patients with a number of chronic and fatal diseases (cancer, AIDS, etc...) and nothing would scare me more than a diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (3, Insightful)

vidarh (309115) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408845)

A "bit frustrating"? Try years of living in fear of whats happening and shame of not being able to function properly and desperately trying to hide it. It's not how it plays out for all Alzheimers sufferers, but it's a fairly normal way for it to start.

Both my grandmothers went down that route. One of them managed to hide it from her husband until he was meant to go to hospital for a minor operation. Then her world collapsed, because she knew she wouldn't be able to handle things alone while he was away, and she refused to get out of bed, and she never did again - she lived another ten years with rapidly declining mental faculties and rapidly accelerating memory loss, but was certainly aware of it for another year or two.

The other, we realized after she was diagnosed, had been hiding her declining memory for years by excusing any memory problem by claiming she had "just taken pain medication" for some of her other health problems. Others hide it by writing notes to assist them, or learning to talk and ask questions in ways designed to avoid admitting they've forgotten something.

Remember those horrible moments in school, when you'd forgotten something very obvious and got asked about it, and knew or thought everyone else would think you were an idiot if you answered wrongly? Now imagine every conversation you have for several years being like that.

Re:Horrifying for whom? (1)

mattpalmer1086 (707360) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409603)

No, it's deeply distressing for the sufferer as well, although you are right to say the family and friends do suffer horribly too. It takes years, even decades to fully play out, and for much of that, the sufferer is aware of what is happening to them. When they stop remembering what's happening to them, it gets even worse. They have to be looked after all the time, but resent being treated like a child. They can't remember that they aren't capable anymore. People often get violent, or deeply depressed, as they no longer understand why the world no longer makes sense.

The idea that once people forget they have a problem, it's all sunlight for them is so wrong it's hard to know what to say. It's really, really, horrible. If you haven't experienced it, you shouldn't comment on it so flippantly. I found your comments abuot euthanasia particularly insensitive.

Knowing you know (1)

axlash (960838) | more than 6 years ago | (#20410435)

First up, I appreciate the responses giving by posters who have witnessed first hand the trauma of Alzheimer's sufferers.

I wonder if it would make any difference if very early on in life, a person became aware of what Alzheimer's was all about and resolved that if it should ever happen to them, they would calmly accept it. Then later on in life, if they began to experience the symptoms of memory loss, they would still have this memory of resolving to accept Alzheimer's if it should ever afflict them - and perhaps this memory would help them deal with the illness.

Being betrayed by bush and company.. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20406519)

Is a lot worse

Some of us will not live to see an old age because of their present day actions..

It really works... (1, Funny)

D-Cypell (446534) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406183)

My grandmother was involved in some secret trials of this technology. I have to say it is marvelous. For years she could hardly remeber a thing, but once we found a doner she can now remember everything up until the motorcylce accident.

Hooray. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20406217)

For medical science. For when "positive thinking" doesn't quite do the trick.

Great! now more people will die of cancer (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406305)

while being fully aware that they are dying. The frailness of age is still not solved with it, but it will make healthcare even more costly as all people getting older will demand this or other costly cures. One should wonder if people will demand longer careers (past their 70s) to pay for this extension of life too.

Re:Great! now more people will die of cancer (1)

d12v10 (1046686) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406399)

...

1) Alzheimers != cancer
2) The article does not say this is a cure, in fact it implies that is more a treatment than a cure
3) Whether or not people would demand longer careers is not important. This isn't about the economy or healthcare, this is about treating PEOPLE with a FATAL ailment.

Longer 'til retirement. (2, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406467)

One should wonder if people will demand longer careers (past their 70s) to pay for this extension of life too.

As socialized medicine seems just around the corner and the social security system is already in danger, I would go so far as to say longer careers should be strongly encouraged, and the social security age should be slowly raised. To pay for all of this we are going to need more cash going into the common government funds, and I don't fancy paying a 50% tax/S.S. rate to cover a bunch of Baby Boomers who retired at 60. As the infirmities of age are pushed back so should the accepted retirement age be pushed back. We already spend the first 20 years of our lives not contributing materially to society, I don't think we should also spend the last 20 years on an open ended vacation unless it can be paid for 100% out of pocket. While I think this is a wonderful medical advancement (there is a history of Alzheimer's in my family), it does in a way add to the impending problems the western world faces in it's growing elderly population.

Re:Longer 'til retirement. (3, Insightful)

Bonobo_Unknown (925651) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406639)

In the USA you could have had all this (zero cost at point of service medicine for everyone). They decided to have a war in Iraq instead.

Re:Longer 'til retirement. (1)

ElDuque (267493) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409689)


Universal health care is a different order of magnitude from this war: Medicare spending over the next 5 years is estimated at $2.56 trillion by the CBO (nonpartisan), while 5 years of Iraq war has only cost us $500 billion. (source: a very partisan-looking website)

If you want to expand government (taxpayer) funded health care from the approximately 50 million people Medicare currently covers to everyone, that $2.56 trillion goes up by a factor of about six.

Re:Longer 'til retirement. (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#20410311)

To pay for all of this we are going to need more cash going into the common government funds, and I don't fancy paying a 50% tax/S.S. rate to cover a bunch of Baby Boomers who retired at 60.
You should know, the main problem (for a really long time) hasn't been a lack of money going into the SS trust fund, it's money going out. The Federal Government owes Social Security > 1 trillion dollars... with interest.

Social Security has been running a surplus since around 1984 (which is when they jacked up taxes) BUT Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have been raiding the SS Trust Fund ever since then to cover their deficeit spending.

In 1999 a Republican Congressman got a resolution passed (416-12) prohibiting SS funds from being spent on any Government program. 100% of Democratic Senators voted against it & the bill died.

Long story short: There isn't enough Government spending to cut and someone is going to have to raise *taxes eventually.

*Bush hasn't signed any diret tax hikes into existince, but they've been jacking up fees and a variety of other non-taxes in order to help cover the difference.

Re:Great! now more people will die of cancer (1)

OceanBarb (197565) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406507)

Well, we are all dying...some just take longer than others. Every day past 21 years is gravy. But it sure is hard to live in the moment wearing that red vest when I'm 83. Hope my bones hold up. Don't anyone shove a shopping cart at me.

Re:Great! now more people will die of cancer (2, Insightful)

knewter (62953) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407031)

Your mind seems awfully warped. Recognize this for what it is: an intriguing discovery with the possibility of solving a problem. If on the whole people are worse off for the treatment, we should rationally expect that it won't become widespread. So stop being a dick and just say 'hey this is really cool.'

I used to be constantly pessimistic like this. I'm trying to get over it. Solving problems / learning more truths == good.

Re:Great! now more people will die of cancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20407153)

Anything that holds off or eliminates the need for dementia care is something that deserves some attention.

The cost of the treatment must be weighed against the costs of caring for patients with dementive illnesses. That includes billions in unpaid care that many people are providing to their relatives. (Not to mention the costs associated with the health problems and mortality that family caregivers themselves experience as a result of their caregiving.) Dementia care is a drag on society, and demographically it's going to get a lot worse as the boomers age.*

From a personal perspective, I took care of a parent with Lewy Body dementia practically singlehanded from onset to death (over the course of a couple of years). It was nothing short of horrifying, and the experience has seriously kicked my butt even a year later. I can't easily imagine either Medicaid or the informal support net of family caregivers holding the line if/when the incidence of dementia increases by a factor of, say, 2 or 3.

* After typing the above I found an interesting set of statistics provided in the 2007 National Policy Statment of an organization called the Family Caregiver Alliance:

"With the annual cost per person of nursing home care averaging $75,190, any delay means real savings to families, to government programs and to businesses. Consider:

- If services provided by informal caregivers had to be replaced with paid services, it would cost an estimated $306 billion (in 2004 dollars)
- Lost productivity due to informal caregiving costs businesses $17.1 billion annually
- Informal caregivers personally lose about $659,139 over a lifetime: $25,494 in Social Security benefits; $67,202 in pension benefits; and $566,443 in forgone wages."

Also, from Newsweek's "The Boomer Files" at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19131991/site/newsweek / [msn.com] :
"Alzheimer's currently afflicts more than 5 million Americans and 70 percent of them live at home, where they are cared for by many millions of daughters, sons and spouses.....By 2050, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's and other dementias could soar to 16 million."

Re:Great! now more people will die of cancer (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407783)

In addition to being inexcusably nasty, your post makes asumptions without basis in TFA. Once in mass production, the cure would consist of:
  • Harvesting some skin cells.
  • Genetically altering them so that they'll generate the plaque-disolving chemical.
  • Injecting the altered cells into the spinal or cerebral fluid.
So, 2 doctor visits plus occasional checkups to make sure nothing goes haywire. Some tricky lab work. Maybe $10,000.00, about what it costs to stay in a big-city nursing home for 1 month. In exchange, the patient probably gains 10 years of mentally healthy life, happiness for himself and those who would otherwise have to care for him.

Frailness getting solved piecemeal (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407815)

The frailness of age is still not solved with it, but it will make healthcare even more costly as all people getting older will demand this or other costly cures.

This is one piece of solving the frailness of age. Solve enough of them and "old age" is no longer frail.

Solve enough more and it is indistinguishable from healthy youth.

Which IS the idea after all.

Meanwhile, the cost of caring for an alzheimer's patient is astronomical. If you can do a one-shot procedure (even a very expensive one) which (at a minimum) arrests the progression of the damage and lets the victim continue independent living rather than being institutionalized under continuous skilled care, the overall cost of treating the disease will plummet.

Re:Great! now more people will die of cancer (1)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#20410369)

One should wonder if people will demand longer careers (past their 70s) to pay for this extension of life too.

Well, here in the UK, the government has decided that anyone working in the private sector will have to work until they drop by abolishing the retirement age.

Meanwhile, MP's and state workers still get their superannuated pension schemes and early retirement.

How to tell when a mouse has Alzheimer's... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20406321)

He stops trying to run away from the guy in the lab coat.

Neprilysin (4, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406331)

The Harvard team used skin cells from the animal's own body to introduce a gene for an amyloid-busting enzyme known as neprilysin. The skin cells, also known as fibroblasts, "do not form tumors or move from the implantation site," Hemming notes. "They cause no detectable adverse side effects and can easily be taken from a patient's skin." In addition, other genes can be added to the fibroblast-neprilysin combo, which will eliminate the implants if something starts to go wrong.
I suppose the simple genetic change isn't as likely to cause some immune reaction than the gene implanted via a virus- it should be a lot safer to just introduce cells with the gene instead of altering large sections of tissue in the human body. here's the enzyme they are talking about that is doing the good work:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neprilysin

Old age is not a happier time of life? (2, Informative)

ArtuRocks (956605) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406349)

If this works in humans, old age could be a much happier time of life.
Ummm.... huh? Two problems I have with that sentence:
1.) Granted, I'm 34, so I'm not talking from experience, but from what I gather [webmd.com] old age is already a happier time of life.
2.) If I'm interpreting the sentence correctly, the sentence is implying that most of the time when people reach old age they get Alzheimer's. If that is true, then I need a reality check because I didn't know that.

Re:Old age is not a happier time of life? (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406429)

2.) If I'm interpreting the sentence correctly, the sentence is implying that most of the time when people reach old age they get Alzheimer's. If that is true, then I need a reality check because I didn't know that.
Certainly nobody dies of "old age" anymore. It is always something like Alzheimer's or cancer or heart failure or complications from the treatment of something like that. We've already cured the simpler afflictions, and are now basically dismantling the whole "planned obsolescence" aspect of human biology.

Re:Old age is not a happier time of life? (1)

polyex (736819) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406433)

It is common. I have had some first hand experience with my Father on this one. It seems like many of his old friends either have this or vascular dementia as well (which looks similar but is different). Its not a scientific observation, but I kind of get the feeling if you manage to not kill yourself or get killed, and avoid the the heart attack and cancer route in your old age, you may find this at the end of the road. Your right about younger people getting it, I know that a politician recently contracted it at a very young age. I would venture the vast majority of people who have it though are say over 60, which is a rather nasty retirement gift.

Re:Old age is not a happier time of life? (1)

vidarh (309115) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408773)

If you survive to old age today, most people die of either cancer or heart disease or get dementia of one form or another that either eventually kills them or leaves them with so little brain function it's an academic point anyway (i.e. Alzheimers, where patients might spend years in almost vegetative states before dying, often as a result of decay because they might have spent years unable to even walk).

I believe it's a reasonably even split between the three, though I might be mistaken, and Alzheimers make up by far the largest number of the dementia cases.

Re:Old age is not a happier time of life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20409605)

You invariably will get Alzheimer's if you live long enough. The buildup of amyloid plaques appears to be a natural part of living and, until we find a treatment, everyone will get it if they were to live long enough. Most people die of something else before the symptoms start, however.

What I want to know is.. (0)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406361)

Where are they getting the brains to implant?!?

Re:What I want to know is.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20406543)

Windows users. they dont seem to be using them anyways

Re:What I want to know is.. (2, Interesting)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407037)

From your skin. And not 'brains' but connective tissue cells (fibroblasts) that are easy to grow.

It sounds pretty good but I am afraid it will not cure the disease. Permanent damage and the tissue/functionality lost are not restored, so I am afraid we would still need stem cells for a proper AD cure.

Great News (5, Insightful)

polyex (736819) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406365)

I feel strongly that your mind is the most important part of your body. Its truly what makes you unique,. This research progress is great news. I just wish there was some way to get my Father treatment. Someone once told me that one of the toughest time for a child is when he realizes his parents are mortal. Over the last couple of years I have had to watch a brilliant man slowly disintegrate into a shell of his former self (all the while knowing what was happening to him and that he really had no where to escape to). If you have a heart attack, you sometimes can do something about it, with better lifestyle eating etc. or even cancer, you can fight it with therapy and perhaps have the hope to be free of it. Not the case with this disease, and the worst part is that you know its happening to you as its slowly robs you and your loved ones of your last sanctuary, yourself. Dealing with this first hand has certainly had an effects on me and my outlook on life in ways that were not apparent to me at first. Any kind of progress against this disease simply makes my day.

Re:Great News (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20407013)

I too am dealing with the loss of a loved one (grandmother) to Alzheimer's. More so than pretty much any other disease, it robs you of your ability to grieve for the loss of a loved one. Whereas someone lost to cancer or a heart attack goes from a very clear state of being alive to being dead, Alzheimer's victims aren't that way.

I'm not sure when my grandmother died since her body is still very much alive, but I know that it happened. I know that the woman I knew as a child is no longer alive. I know that every time I visit her, I come anew to the same realization that she's gone. It's a cruel trick of nature to leave a visual image that triggers memories of when she was alive. And that's something that those who's loved ones have been buried/cremated/etc don't have to deal with.

Here's hoping that these and future developments will lead to a cure for this disease because no one, neither victim nor family members, should be put through what Alzheimer's does.

Re:Great News (-1, Troll)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407561)

I feel strongly that your mind is the most important part of your body. Its truly what makes you unique,.

Umm... No crap? Without a mind, you'd be a piece of meat. That's hardly interesting, is it?

?

A couple big questions though... (5, Interesting)

tfoss (203340) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406493)

First off, here's the actual article [plosjournals.org], which was published in PLoS Medicine (meaning free access for everyone, yay).

Whether this accomplishment (and it is a pretty cool accomplishment) will be meaningful for people is very uncertain. First of all, Alzheimer's is not a positive diagnosis, that is you diagnose it by the absence of other explanations for observed behavior. So you don't actually have a way of confirming that the mental defects of a patient are *really* due to a-beta deposits. Unlike many diseases, we can't (yet) test blood or tissue or do imaging studies to confirm a-beta deposits (though there is tons of effort being spent on developing such tests). So you'd have to decide to do a pretty serious procedure on (generally) elderly people in less than ideal health on the basis of a flimsy diagnosis. It might well be worth it, but it is a big question.

Moreover, though, we don't really know what causes the neurodegeneration associated with amyloid diseases. We know that deposits or a-beta or tau tangles (or light-chain or huntingtin, or SOD or transthyretin [wikipedia.org] (which was the topic of my thesis work) or whatever amyloidogenic protein you like) correlate well with neurodegeneration. But whether those are the cause or not is still a very open question. In fact there is plenty of research around that suggests that amyloid deposits themselves are not damaging, but the precursors in the aggregation pathway are the real culprits. Some have even suggested that amyloid is a more or less inert structure that can be used to segregate potentially dangerously unstable proteins away from the rest of the cell.

So, supposing this treatment does everything perfectly, chops up a-beta and disintegrates plaques, *and* we can deliver it to correctly diagnosed patients, we still might not even be hitting the right target.

Not to be too down on this topic, but we are still quite a long way from a treatment, much less a cure.

-Ted

Re:A couple big questions though... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20406759)

^^ Exactly. I work in a lab at Harvard studying mechanisms thought to be responsible for eliminating aggregates (such as those in AD) from the cell, and there's no evidence that this is where toxicity comes from. Shutting down these processes doesn't have any effect on the progression or lifespan of mice with ALS, Huntington's disease, or Prion infection. I'm still looking into AD and Parkinson's, but all signs point to no effect at the moment.

Re:A couple big questions though... (2, Insightful)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406885)

[..]or whatever amyloidogenic protein you like) correlate well with neurodegeneration. But whether those are the cause or not is still a very open question.
Didn't they link mad cow disease to a protein as well? I believe they ruled out microbial agents there as the principiant. So, if the common post symptomatic link is protein deposits, then what are some of those possible precursors leading to them?

Personally, I never understood the need for aluminum in any bio absorbable product. In part, that's why I use specific deodorant brands not containing any derivative of it.

Is there any way I can help? (2, Interesting)

Skychrono (1011907) | more than 6 years ago | (#20406499)

My greatest fear in life is forgetting important things - forgetting what makes me wake up every morning, forgetting the good in people, forgetting those close to me. I know some old people for whom I'd gladly shed off years of my life if it meant they could touch more people the way they touched me. Alzheimer's has always been the one thing that I've prayed they could avoid. So, I ask you Slashdotters - do you know of any way I can help here? Can I donate money to this cause somehow? What can _I_ do?

Re:Is there any way I can help? (1)

Macrosoft0 (1128625) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407569)

i agree completely. the past is what has shaped my personality and made me who i am. if i can't remember the past, its almost like it never happened. if i don't have that past experience to influence my behavior, then i am not acting like myself, but more like a completely different person. if so, i am not myself, only a stranger.

Re:Is there any way I can help? (1)

Puff of Logic (895805) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407599)

So, I ask you Slashdotters - do you know of any way I can help here? Can I donate money to this cause somehow? What can _I_ do?
Well, it's probably not feasible for you to single-handedly contribute significant funding to such a cause, and I believe organisations already exist to solicit charitable donations to help those afflicted with Alzheimer's. If you feel as strongly about eradicating such biological horrors as Alzheimer's as you seem to, might I suggest you take a somewhat longer view and volunteer your time trying to get the next generation of students excited about science? Work is already in full swing on many of our current diseases but doubtless further problems will arise. An investment of your time towards getting some younger folks interested in science as a career could pay future dividends well in excess of a monetary donation now.

For the record, I very much empathise with your sentiments. I also had something of an epiphany concerning the misery inflicted upon humanity as a result of disease and injury. I chose to switch careers, started volunteering for events like Cool Science and other such pro-science activities, and I'm halfway through the application process for medical school. I realised that discussing the world's problems on Slashdot was all well and good, but it was far better to stand up and actually try to help fix some of them. Good luck.

The bright side of alzheimers (0, Troll)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407061)

Do they really want to remember?!

Sometimes Alzheimer works as a coping mechanism. When they are in a nursing home, is it beneficial to there sanity to remember how yesterday was exactly the same as today? It helps them forget how miserable there life is and it makes every day as interesting as the last. They are always making new friends. They always have a "new" story to tell when someone comes to visit (even if they have heard it a million times). The visitors have someone that they can talk to because they won't remember it the next day anyways. It's like having a crazy old therapist!

Maybe we should consider all aspects before we go and play god. Do we really know what's best for the elderly?

Re:The bright side of alzheimers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20407479)

Idiot. You don't just lose your short term memory, what happened the day before. You lose long term memory, which is everything. Every thing you've seen, everyone you know, every skill you have, everything you've ever done. They don't make "new friends" because they've forgotten how interact socially. They don't "tell stories" because they've forgotten them all, or forgotten how to speak at all. I lost a grandmother to Alzheimers (and I give thanks that her biggest risk factor was head trauma so my mom, my brother, and I are unlikely to go through the same thing) and it was an nightmare for me, and I wasn't even responsible for her care! Read the goddamn wiki before spouting off garbage like that.

Re:The bright side of alzheimers (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407939)

You think Alzheimers is so wonderful? You could achieve similar results right now with a lobotomy. No? Not for you?

Also, consider the burden removed from family and caretakers if Alzheimer's is cured. One of the main reasons people are in nursing homes is brain degradation, Alzheimers or Parkinsons mostly. Fix the brain, and the body is better able to take care of itself: fewer people in nursing homes.

Re:The bright side of alzheimers (1)

RembrandtX (240864) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408231)

Yeah .. a coping mechanism. I mean .. remembering who you, your children, your wife, your family are .. how bothersome.
Remembering how to walk, dress yourself, and ultimately .. how to breathe or keep your heart beating .. how tedious.

My grandfather had alzheimers for about 15 years, ultimately he died in a VA hospital, with family all around him. Weeks prior, he had shouted at people [including his wife and daughters] that they were keeping him from his family against his will. At the end he could not even do that, as he had forgotten how to talk. His liver and kidneys shut down, and eventually, his brain forgot how to keep his heart beating.

We should stop and consider how cruel it is to remember things before we go about treating alzheimers.

Thats kind of like saying everyone should get cancer, you know .. to teach them all to stop driving so fast.

Re:The bright side of alzheimers (3, Informative)

vidarh (309115) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408725)

Seriously, if that's an attempt at a joke it's extremely tasteless.

Both my grandmothers have/had Alzheimers. The first couple of years they still recognized us, though their short term memory went within months and got to the point where at any visit you'd have to remind them who you were several times (then they'd still recognize us) and they'd ask the same questions over and over again and promptly forget the conversation.

But then, pretty soon they were unable to recognize anyone. Including their spouses who they'd lived with for decades; including their children.

Beyond that it took a couple of years before they eventually lost the ability to speak, and were sitting around just looking. We've been "lucky" - neither of them got aggressive. Aggression is a common effect of Alzheimers.

My paternal grandmother was in hospital for a couple of years with some level of memory, and then sat like a vegetable in a nursing home for about eight years before she died. She was unable to speak, and recognized noone during all of those eight years.

But the worst part is that when we found out they had Alzheimers, you could see the symptoms going back several years - suddenly lots of strange incidents made sense -, and they must have known something was badly wrong, but tried to hide it. Alzheimers scare the shit out of people and a lot of people getting it try to hide their memory loss as best they can because they're ashamed or scared until it gets so bad they can't function.

Frankly, if I get Alzheimers and there's still not a cure, I hope I realize early enough to kill myself.

You really have never seen this, have you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20408797)

I have to say that that is one of the most naive comments I have ever read on Slashdot. I can only assume that you've never seen anyone degenerate due to Alzheimers. It is truly horrendous for the sufferer, and their loved ones. Read some of the experiences posted on this thread: it's an atrocious disease that turns once bright, sparkling people into senseless automata but what is so upsetting is the brief periods of absolute lucidity where, nine times out of ten, the sufferer just begs for help.

Alheimers is not a coping mechanism. Your little tale about "always having a new story" really is bordering on the offensive.

Oh, and how appropriate - the Captcha for this post is "declines". Sums the disease up nicely.

Re:The bright side of alzheimers (1)

bcwright (871193) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408939)

Exactly what makes you think that most of the "sameness" of every day at a nursing home isn't caused by diseases such as Alzheimer's?! True, many of the residents have serious physical problems that may preclude their living alone, but physical disabilities don't prevent you from doing a lot of interesting and varied activities that just don't require a lot of physical activity - reading, talking, playing Scrabble, even surfing the Net (yes there are some older adults who do exactly that).

Sorry if this sounds too rude, but your post sounds as if you haven't spent much time around older people who have found themselves in that situation.

No bright side (1)

alohatiger (313873) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409867)

Alzheimer's is not the nice, pleasant daily amnesia you think it is. Three times a week a take my mom to visit my step-dad at an Alzheimer's care facility. Many of the residents don't speak, some speak in non-nonsensical sentences and some mutter gibberish. A few of them seem "normal" for a minute or two until you realize they aren't "all there."

For some the effect isn't memory so much as panic and anxiety. Some get aggressive. These are kept in a medicated stupor. While it seems unfair to use drugs this way, I think it's better than the alternative.

TFA gives me a little hope because my mom is already on drugs to treat her dementia. She's OK now, but I'm always watching her closely and wondering when I'll be visiting her instead of taking her to visit.

Removing amyloid. (3, Interesting)

Climate Shill (1039098) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407123)

There's been a method for removing amyloid plaques from the brain since 2002. Elan Pharmaceuticals produced a vaccine [bbc.co.uk] which stimulated the immune system to produce antibodies against amyloid. Unfortunately, it's a cure, and cures are bad for business, so Elan abandoned it.

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407279)

Well, if the vaccine kill the patients, then I suppose that can be called a 'cure' in some perverted way.

I'm not afraid of death. I have been dead for billions of years before I was born.

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

Climate Shill (1039098) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407421)

Well, if the vaccine kill the patients [...]

Which it doesn't. Or was that some kind of joke I didn't get ?

Re:Removing amyloid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20407955)

It did, in a few cases - from massive brain inflammation due to an immune system over-response. Safer versions of the vaccine are being developed, as well as dozens of other approaches to removing amyloid beta plaques from the brain.

As previous posters have indicated though, amyloid beta buildup may be a symptom rather than a cause of Alzheimer's disease.

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

Climate Shill (1039098) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408181)

Cite ? I remember it as 18 out of 300 test subjects suffering inflammation, with none dying. The worst I've been able to find is a 72 year only whose inflammation "probably hastened" her death. For a disease with 100% mortality untreated, that's not an unacceptable risk.

Re:Removing amyloid. (2, Interesting)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407595)

I'm not afraid of death. I have been dead for billions of years before I was born.

A bit off topic, but I wanted to respond to this. Think about it. Before you existed, there were billions of years of nothing. And presumably, after you die, another eternity of nothing. So basically the world looks like this:

Nothing... Nothing... Nothing... flyingfsck exists... Nothing... Nothing... Nothing.

Notice that "flyingfsck" is special in this scenario -- he (she?) is the one who comes into being, and then dies. I ask you, what the heck is so special about YOU? Why is it YOU who flashes into existence for a brief few years and then disappears?

The answer is, there's nothing special at all about you. Which means the whole idea that your existence was preceded by "nothingness" and followed by "nothingless" must be inherently flawed. Just something to think about.

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

MLease (652529) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408147)

How do you get from here to there? As far as I can tell, his philosophy is more or less, "The universe got along fine without me for billions of years, and will do the same after I'm gone." (which is basically my own position). He didn't say anything about being special or nothingness preceding or following his existence; he merely observed that he's not afraid of death because he was, in effect, in that same state before.

-Mike

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20408295)

How do you get from here to there? As far as I can tell, his philosophy is more or less, "The universe got along fine without me for billions of years, and will do the same after I'm gone." (which is basically my own position). He didn't say anything about being special or nothingness preceding or following his existence; he merely observed that he's not afraid of death because he was, in effect, in that same state before.

I'm not making a comment on the fellow's ego. It just stimulates me to think. If there's nothing special about me, then there is nothing special about the "nothingness" which both precedes and follows me. And yet, I exist, as a conscious being. This leads me to believe that what "follows me" in this life is not an eternity of nothingness, but more consciousness. Not my own, since "I" no longer exist, but consciousness, first person existence, none the less. My point is, by believing that our lives are followed by nothingness, we defy the basic statistics of the universe.

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

bcwright (871193) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409299)

First of all, as far as I've seen the vaccine is NOT a cure in the sense of reversing the effects and restoring lost mental function, but at most of halting the progression - though even that is still under evaluation, since it's by no means clear that simply removing the plaque is enough to stop the disease process. Not that a treatment that halted the progression of the disease wouldn't be a very good thing, but it's not the same thing as a cure.

Secondly, the vaccine has NOT been abandoned, as far as I can find; instead there is work ongoing to try to reduce potentially dangerous side effects such as inflammation.

Thirdly, in what sense would a cure be "bad for business"?! Pharmaceutical firms are not even in the nursing home business which is the primary cost of care for end-stage Alzheimer's. In fact they could stand to make a good deal of money if a cure could be found!

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

juhaz (110830) | more than 6 years ago | (#20409525)

Thirdly, in what sense would a cure be "bad for business"?!
A cure is one-shot deal. Once you're cured, you're cured and no longer cash cow. Bad for business.

In fact they could stand to make a good deal of money if a cure could be found!
Only if it's cure or nothing, but when you're comparing a cure and treatment it's pretty obvious which makes good deal more money. One injection, or one daily for twenty years?

Re:Removing amyloid. (1)

milwcoder (1132835) | more than 6 years ago | (#20410757)

There's also tremendous value to business to be the first one to find a cure for AD. Maybe their existing drugs will become obsolete, but exclusive patents will feed the company for years to come, not to mention all the accolades and awards that come with the accomplishment. In a competitive market, which I believe the "innovate-or-go-under" drug industry is pretty damn near, this type of collusion to stop inventing treatments can hardly be pulled off.

Opposite of Tinfoil Hats (-1, Offtopic)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#20407201)

I really hope the new Futurama brings back the Brain Slugs [gotfuturama.com].

[Hermes is under the control of a brain slug, which is attached to his head]

Hermes: On to new business. Today's mission is to go to the brain slug planet.
Dr. Zoidberg: What are we going to do there?
Hermes: Nothing. Just walk around not wearing a helmet.

Not to be rude... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20408073)

But do people that have Alzheimer's actually want to know that they are dying? My Grandmother had it and I have to say it was terrible to watch it happening. Sure I would have loved for her not to have it but she did seem really happy though, for someone that was dying...

I was going to make a wonderfully elegant comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20410057)

.... but I can't remember what I was going to say.
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