Researchers at Duke announced that their studies of Alzheimer’s in mice had thrown up a new process they believe contributes to the disease’s development.
How Alzheimer's disease manifests itself
They observed that in Alzheimer’s, immune cells that normally protect the brain instead begin to consume a vital nutrient called arginine.
By blocking this process with a drug, they were able to prevent the formation of ‘plaques’ in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and also halted memory loss in the mice.
The drug that was used to block the body’s immune response to arginine – known as difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) – is already being investigated in drug trials for certain types of cancer and may be suitable for testing as a potential Alzheimer’s therapy.
Those of you who know how my mother died will understand why this is exciting news to me: I look forward to the day when no one has to suffer what she suffered, and no family faces the heartache we faced as she declined into dementia. Seeing humanity rid of Alzheimer's disease would be a medical breakthrough the significance of which can scarcely be overstated: if this treatment works in humans, it is a really big deal.
Yes, there is a political component to this story. Mom died in 1990, so I've been following the research that has been done, as best a layman can follow a subject so intrinsically complex, for more than 25 years. After a few years I began to realize that drug companies, in the face of repeated failures to find the cause of Alzheimer's (let alone any serious leads toward a cure), eventually began withdrawing research funding, presumably because there appeared to be so little potential for finding a drug they could sell profitably to justify the extreme expense of the research.
If you ever gave a minute's thought to why the so-called free market is ineffective in solving some problems of great import to society, you'll probably stumble upon this situation, if not this very disease: until now, pursuing a cure for Alzheimer's has been unprofitable. And profitability is the sacred goal of every corporation in anything resembling a free market economy. In other words, if you insist on a government-free approach to funding Alzheimer's research, you are likely condemning Alzheimer's sufferers and their families to a life of sorrow. If you do insist on that approach for ideological reasons... don't come knocking on my door for any reason whatsoever; you're liable to leave with a broken nose.
(H/T Ruth Curran for the graphic on Cranium Crunches; Walter Einenkel at Kos for the ref to the Independent article.)