The Sunday Telegraph

How the brain could heal itself of Alzheimer’s

- By Sarah Knapton

SCIENTISTS hope diseases including Alzheimer’s could be prevented from ever emerging after they discovered how the brain can rewire itself to fight off decline.

A team at University College London made the discovery after scanning the brains of people who carry the single genetic mutation which drives Huntington’s disease.

Researcher­s have been puzzled about how sufferers can function normally for many decades before the onset of Huntington’s, even though large chunks of brain matter are missing.

But when they scanned the brains of Huntington’s sufferers and asked them to perform simple memory and verbal tests, they found that their neural circuits had developed coping mechanisms to beat the disease. likely to be same way.

Sarah Tabrizi, professor of clinical neurology at UCL, said: “What’s surprising is that despite lots of brain changes, people with Huntington’s disease perform very well, so we wanted to test the hypotheses that other parts of the brain are compensati­ng.

“We found areas of the brain linking to other network regions where there should not have been connection­s. So the brain is clearly adapting.

“This is really a very interestin­g result as it shows the brain is able to adapt for Huntington’s and it is likely the same thing is happening in other neurodegen­erative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.”

Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition that damages certain nerve cells in the brain.

Early symptoms can include personalit­y changes, mood swings, fidgety movements, irritabili­ty and altered behaviour.

It is thought to affect nearly 8,000 people in Britain while around 130,000 suffer from Parkinson’s and 850,000 have some form of dementia.

The three-year trial looked at the brains of 106 Huntington’s patients who had yet to show symptoms, 22 patients with early symptoms and 111 people without any neurodegen­erative disease.

Although there is currently no drug which is effective at targeting neurodegen­erative diseases like dementia, several trials are showing positive results when the diseases are caught early enough.

In a landmark announceme­nt last month, pharmaceut­ical giant Eli Lilly said that solanezuma­b has been shown to put the brakes on the disease for people with mild symptoms.

Solanezuma­b is the first drug shown to target the disease process itself, clearing sticky plaques in the brain which stop the neurons firing.




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