The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but new research indicates they also may mirror a brain ravaged by Alzheimer's disease.
UC Irvine neuroscientists have found that retinas in mice genetically altered to have Alzheimer's undergo changes similar to those that occur in the brain -- most notably the accumulation of amyloid plaque lesions.
In addition, the scientists discovered that when Alzheimer's therapies are tested in such mice, retinal changes that result might predict how the treatments will work in humans better than changes in mouse brain tissue.
As many as 5.3 million persons in the United States are living with Alzheimer's disease, and an additional 10 million US baby boomers are proejcted to be at risk over their lifetime. Worldwide, with the rapid increase in the older population, Alzheimer disease and related dementias will affect an increasing number of families, with major societal and economic implications. Hence, these are conditions likely to be encountered by a wide range of clinicians.
When MIT biology professor Leonard Guarente started looking for the Fountain of Youth through this microscope more than a decade ago, compatriots were hard to come by.
"Even my own colleagues thought I was nuts," said Guarente, whose studies of the metabolic pathways in yeast cells might lead to drugs that reverse and prevent aging. "But the scientific community has done a complete 180 in the past 20 years."
Dementia is often viewed as a disease of the mind, an illness that erases treasured memories but leaves the body intact.
But dementia is also a physicial illness, too - a progressive, terminal disease that shuts down the body as it attackes the brain. Although the early stages can last for years, the life expectancy of a patient with advanced dementia is similar to that of a patient with advanced cancer.
One early summer Saturday, Ted Clapp, a retired minister and psychologist, invited about twenty of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to lunch at his place north of Portland, Maine. He had set out some family treasures - including arrowheads found on his grandfather's farm, watercolor paintings by some "ancient ancestor," an antique trumpet, and his great-grandfather's sword - that he'd collected over his ninety years.
A breakthrough discovery by scientists from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, may lead to a new treatment for Alzheimer's disease that actually removes amyloid plaques - considered a hallmark of the disease - from patients' brains.
This discovery, published online in the FASEB Journal, is based on the unexpected finding that when the brain's immune cells (microglia) are activated by the interleukin-6 protein (IL-6), they actually remove plaques instead of causing them or making them worse. The research was performed in a model of Alzheimer's disease established in mice.
OMG, the Oxford-based company behind the motion-capture technology used in Hollywood films, is preparing to launch a device designed to help Alzheimer's disease sufferers cope with memory loss.
The UK company has signed a license with software giant Microsoft to use its SenseCam technology to launch a wearable camera that automatically takes digital photos of the patient's day. The images taken by the device, which is smaller and lighter than an iPod, can then be viewed to reinforce the patient's memories.
Researchers in several countries are beginning to explore new uses for digital technology in treating Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and the University of Toronto is playing an important part.
Devices resulting from this line of inquiry are sometimes known as "cognitive prosthetics", a name intended to communicate their true ability: Not rehabilitation, merely assistance. Dementias, including Alzheimer's, remain incurable.