Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, degenerative disease associated with the buildup of plaque on the brain. Its symptoms include confusion, mood swings, long-term memory loss and eventual breakdown and complete withdrawal from life. The causes of Alzheimer’s are not well-understood, but progress is being made to change that.

The New York Times reports on new research from MIT that shows that mice prone to Alzheimer’s have an extremely positive reaction when exposed to the protein sirtuin. Experts hope this may be a key step in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s.

As the NY Times reports, sirtuin is a protein that is thought to extend an animal's lifespan. Researchers found that when mice engineered to develop Alzheimer’s have sirtuin “activated” within them, they suppressed the disease. When left alone, the mice developed Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Dennis J. Selkoe is an Alzheimer’s expert at Harvard Medical School and not involved in the study. As he told the NY Times, “We think it is a scientifically compelling story that ties the sirtuins to the biology of Alzheimer’s disease.” He does conclude that the therapeutic implications remain up in the air.

Sirtuin worked against Alzheimer’s in the mice in two ways. It served to help shield the brain against stress. Further, it also fought plaque build up. This also leaves the door open to advances in the fight against other diseases. Dr. Juan C. Troncoso of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is a sirtuin expert. According to Troncoso, “If we can activate the same gene we may provide a tonic for nerve cells under stress, and that may be of use in other diseases such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s in which the nerve cells degenerate.”

Resveratrol is a drug naturally produced by plants when they are under attack from bacteria or fungi. It is also found in red wine. More importantly, it activates sirtuin. It is currently being tested against diabetes and other ailments, but at present cannot cross over to work in the brain. Experts hope that they will soon develop a way that it could. And when they do, the future will look a lot brighter for sufferers of neurodegenerative ailments.

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