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A New Direction for Alzheimer's Research

The Neuroscience Technology section of Forbes Magazine in their July 13th, 2009 issue discusses an entirely new approach to discovering the key to eliminating or curing Alzheimer's disease. This article suggests that the present focus of research has been based on a faulty theory and proceeding for years  in the wrong direction.

The headline of the article by Kerry A. Dolan  reads: "The Other 90% of Your Brain" with a sub headline reading: "Progress in Treating Disease like Alzheimer's may be tied to long ignored brains cells called glia". 

"Neurons are the stars of the show in the brain. These cells form the circuits that fire electrical signals enabling us to think, feel and react. They account for only 10% of human brain cells but are the focus of the vast majority of neuroscience research." 

"Yet the cells called glia - which make up 90% of our brain cells and constitute half the volume of the brain - may be even more important than neurons when it comes to treating a host of devastating neurological diseases, including Alzheimer's Parkinson's and stroke. Biology textbooks still all but ignore glial cells. But recent discoveries show how these cells in conjunction with neurons, play a critical role in the way the brain develops and functions." 

"Existing drugs do little nor nothing to stop neurodegenerative disease in their tracks. One reason: Most neurological diseases still aren't well understood. But it may also turn out that pharmaceutical firms thus far have been developing drugs that target the wrong cells in the brain." 

"Neuroscientists used to think that glia, which means "glue" in Greek, served merely as a support system, filling space in the brain, feeding neurons and cleaning up debris". 

"A few drug companies are beginning to develop drugs that either target or rely on glial cells. In 2006 Barres and fellow researcher Beth a Stevens filed a patent on a method to block synapse loss in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Wyeth now in the process of being acquired by Pfizer, licensed the patent and is working with Barres to exploit the finding" 

Note: The so called synapse are the electrical connections between the neurons or the "intersections that neurons use for signaling." 

"Neurobiologist Ben Barres hypothesized that in a diseased brain glial cells called astrocytes set off a chain of events that cause's the destruction of synapses." 

"Both the Wyeth and Izumi research are at an early stage, so the prospects for effective treatments are still remote. But the payoff, if it ever comes, will be huge."