Dementia in the News

MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL IS THE MOST PROLIFIC HEALTHCARE ORGANISATION PUBLISHING IN TOP JOURNALS

Epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders in which surges of electrical activity in clusters of brain cells cause seizures. At least 2.3 million adults and nearly 500,000 children in the U.S. live with some form of epilepsy. Partial, or focal, seizures occur in just one part of the brain. In temporal lobe epilepsy, the most common form of the disorder in adults, seizures usually begin in the hippocampus, a brain structure essential for memory. People with this form of epilepsy often experience memory impairments.

Last week, Rudolph Tanzi was laying down keyboard tracks at Johnny Depp’s L.A. music studio for Joe Perry’s soon-to-be-released solo album. This past week, he launched a new app for Alzheimer’s patients.

Tanzi, of course, knows what an important role music plays in the brain - the trained jazz pianist is one of the country’s top Alzheimer’s researchers and a neurology professor at Harvard. About five years ago, while recording music and looking for new ways to bring music therapy to Alzheimer’s patients, he stumbled upon something greater than a catchy tune.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It is a biological disease marked by physical changes in the brain—most notably buildup of small protein clumps called plaques and tangles - that lead to the death of nerve cells. The cell death usually starts in specific regions of the brain and then spreads to others; as cells die, functions controlled by those areas fade and ultimately disappear, resulting in characteristic signs and symptoms at each stage of the disease.

This Forum explored the challenges and complexities of drug trials, and how they impact disease treatment and prevention -  particularly for conditions that currently have little or no therapeutic options. As a case study, the panel discussed Alzheimer’s and several drugs in development for that disease, but also addressed broader concerns related to the pharmaceutical testing pipeline for unmet medical needs as a whole. This event was presented in partnership with HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, in collaboration with STAT, and in association with NOVA.

The latest in a recent spate of books and movies that have brought Alzheimer’s to a broader public, a new NOVA documentary ow explores what it takes to go from basic research to treatment trials. In her film “Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?” three-time Emmy award and AAAS Science Journalism award-winning producer Sarah Holt tells the story of Alzheimer’s research. Her film conveys the challenges and staggering cost of research and personalizes the emotional toll Alzheimer’s takes on patients, caregivers, and even researchers.

On a recent flight from San Francisco back to Boston, I found myself seated between my 28-year-old daughter Colleen and the emergency hatch. When the attendant had asked if I could perform the duties, I shrugged and simply said I was afraid of heights. I forgot about the confusion part. I forgot why doctors don’t let me travel alone any more. Alzheimer’s will do that.

t’s easy to think that the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease will be revealed in the high-tech hallways of US medical centers and research institutes. But new discoveries are coming from far-off places like Medellín, Colombia, which may be ground zero for finding the genetic basis of this dreaded neurodegenerative disease that strips people of memories and destroys personalities.

Thousands of gene candidates in the human genome have the potential to play a role in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. But you are just one scientist. How can you even start such an enormous task? This quest - one scientist analyzing thousands of gene candidates - can seem overwhelming.

Harvard Medical School researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital explain in a new paper how brain connections, or synapses, are lost early in Alzheimer’s disease. They also show that the process starts before telltale plaques accumulate in the brain.

Their work, published online March 31 in Science, suggests new therapeutic targets to preserve cognitive function early in Alzheimer’s disease.

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