For years, researchers have sought to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s by targeting brain plaque, a hallmark of the disease.
But their efforts haven’t yet led to a safe treatment, so scientists at Washington University have decided to take a different approach.
Rather than attempting to target beta-amyloid plaques, the scientists are combatting the other hallmark Alzheimer’s protein: tau.
Tangles of tau are believed to play a role in memory loss and a new trial on mice suggests that their removal can boost memory and extend life.
Scientists at Washington University genetically engineered the rodents to make a form of tau similar to the type seen in people with Alzheimer’s.
They then injected the mice with antisense oligonucleotides – RNA – four times a month to sabotage the gene that makes tau, New Scientist reported.
In the trial, tau stopped spreading around the brain and existing tangles were destroyed, effectively reversing the Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.
Critically, the mice lived up to 50 days longer.
After, the scientists tested the treatment in monkeys too. Tau levels in spinal fluid samples fell by around 20 per cent, without side effects.
There are concerns that removing tau from the brain could prevent normal functioning in humans, yet mice engineered to not produce tau stay healthy for most of their lives.
The treatment will be tested on larger primates before human trials can begin. It’s expected the treatment would be administered to people at the base of the spine, once a month.