An experiment done on mice by researchers could play a role in how scientists pursue treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia for which there’s no cure.
Scientists believe the disease prevents parts of a cell from functioning properly —causing memory loss and disorientation — but aren’t sure of what causes the issues to occur, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The experimental treatment for mice found that the buildup of amyloid plaque, a brain plaque believed to contribute to the disease, disintegrated when scientists removed the beta-secretase (BACE1) enzyme, which is linked to the development of the disease, according to a study published Wednesday.
The plaques are found in many Alzheimer’s patients, Newsweek reported.
Inhibiting the enzyme was expected to slow the formation of amyloid plaques, not cause them to fade away, according to senior researcher Riqiang Yan.
“When we looked at the mice later — at six months old and 10 months old — all those pre-existing plaques were gone,” Yan told the Chicago Tribune. “Sequential deletion of beta-secretase actually can reverse existing plaques.”
Yan, vice chair of neuroscience with the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, told the newspaper that the rodents’ intellectual function improved as the plaque dissolved due to a lack of the enzyme.
But experts caution that the treatment would have a long way to go before having any kind of impact on humans.
Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, told Newsweek that while the results of the study are promising, 99 percent of all clinical drug trials for the disease have failed, “and we don’t know why.”
If scientists are right to focus on amyloids, it’d still take at least five to seven years before they’d know whether the approach can help humans, Isaacson told Newsweek.
Yan says clinical trials on five BACE1-inhibitor drugs as a possible treatment for Alzheimers are currently underway, FOX News said.
He says the findings should ensure pharmaceutical companies that treating people early could not only “stop the growth of those plaques, but will likely help to even remove the existing plaque,” Yan said.