Dementia in the News

The association of the inhaled anesthetic isoflurane with Alzheimer's-disease-like changes in mammalian brains may be caused by the drug's effects on mitochondria, the structures in which most cellular energey is produced.

INTRODUCTION

Alzheimer's disease is an age-related brain disorder that gradually destroys a person's ability to remember, think, learn, and carry out even the simplest of tasks. Alzheimer's is a type of dementia, a broad term for diseases and conditions that damage brain cells and, over time, impair brain function. Alzheimer's is associated with the breakdown of connections between brain cells, or neurons, and their eventual death.

Airborne pollution can have serious consequences for the brain and the heart even at typical levels of exposure, according to the results of two studies published in the Feb 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

In one analysis, researchers led by Gregory Wellenius, ScD, of Brown University in Providence, R.I., found that short-term exposure to fine particulate matter - even at levels allowed by the EPA - can increase the risk of ischemic stroke.

The Obama administration plans to spend an additional $156 million over the next two years to help find an effective treatment for Alzheimer's, a fatal brain-wasting disease that affects more than 5 million Americans.

The White House said on Tuesday it will spend an extra $50 million this year, and it will seek an extra $80 million in fiscal 2013 to bolster Alzheimer's research. Obama also plans to spend an additional $26 million in programs to support people who care for Alzheimer's patients.

Alzheimer's disease seems to spread like an infection from brain cell to brain cell, two new studies in mice have found. But instead of viruses or bacteria, what is being spread is a distorted protein known as tau.

The surprising finding answers a longstanding question and has immediate implications for developing treatments, researchers said. And they suspect that other degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson's may spread in a similar way.

I love unexpected history, in unexpected places. For instance, I always regretted that Route 128 and Silicon Valley weren't more history-minded, until former Digital Equipment Corp. executive Gordon Bell addressed that problem. He and his wife, Gwen, birthed our Computer Museum, which morphed into the bigger-deal Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

In this vein, an interesting specialty museum is about to open in the heart of Boston:  The Paul S. Russell, MD, Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital.

DEAR FRIENDS

We are proud of our many accomplishments over the past year and we are very appreciative of your support. In this report, you will meet a New Hampshire couple grappling with younger-onset Alzheimer's; a Massachusetts family that has engaged as effective advocates; a man who has set up a special trust to honor his father and support our cause; and a couple who are managing the care of an elderly parent.

New research suggests that the outer edges of the brain are thinner in older people who may be destined to develop Alzheimer's disease, but there's currently no way to use the information to help people fend off dementia.

Still , the findings could help researchers test Alzheimer's medications by allowing them to track the progression of the disease, said study co-author Dr. Brad Dickerson, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Representatives of the Alzheimer's Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter visited the Charlestown Navy Yard Dec 8 to present four investigators with $680,000 on behalf of the national organization. Since 1994, the Alzheimer's Association has donated $3.7 million to the MGH.

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