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Capturing the power of the immune system to combat Alzheimer’s disease

A new study has suggested that the brain’s immune system could be used to remove the amyloid plaques that develop in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The study, which was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Neuroinflammation, confirms some earlier findings related to the ability of the brain’s immune system to play a central role in the clearing of amyloid beta.

Microglia have the ability to remove amyloid beta plaques in the brain

The lead author of the study, M. Kerry O’Banion, MD, PhD, believes that this study may lead to a new therapeutic approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, as they have been able to demonstrate that the immune system can be manipulated in a way that can accelerate this natural process. This current research study came about following observations during previous studies using mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, when the researchers discovered that the amyloid beta plaques were being cleared in mice with chronic brain inflammation. While, at the time, they didn’t understand how this happened, O’Banion and his team decided to investigate microglia, cells which act as the first line of defence against injury and infection. Present throughout our brain and spinal cord, they can be activated to control inflammation, destroy pathogens, seal off the site of an injury and clear the debris from damaged or dead cells.

The researchers were able to replicate the natural process

The team conducted a series of experiments to replicate this process, including injecting a cytokine (a specific kind of protein molecule) into the brain. This allowed them to replicate the mechanisms that give instructions to the microglia to begin their anti-inflammatory response. Once mobilised, the researchers observed more than a 60% reduction in amyloid beta in the mice brains.

The study leads to hope that new treatments for Alzheimer’s will be developed

While more work is needed to gain a more full understanding of the complexity and potential side effects of such an approach, it is clear to the scientists that microglia have an important part to play in the clearing of amyloid beta from the brain. Their findings also give rise to the possibility of developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

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