Researchers at the CNRS and the University of Grenoble Alpes have made a remarkable discovery, finding a molecule that protects the brains of mice from Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery brings hope to the million people suffering from this neurodegenerative disease in France and their loved ones. But what exactly is this molecule, and how does it work? Could it potentially be used in humans? Marc Dhenain, a research director at the CNRS, explains the details.

Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have an abnormal accumulation of two proteins, amyloid-β and Tau, in their brains. These proteins cause damage that affects neurons and their synapses, leading to memory loss over time. Dhenain explains that the process of how amyloid proteins function in Alzheimer’s disease is similar to Prions. In diseases like Mad Cow Disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a misfolded Prion protein in the brain can transmit its abnormal shape to nearby proteins, creating a chain reaction that worsens the disease.

To stop this process, scientists injected a mutated amyloid-β protein into the brains of mice with the disease. This rare protein was found in some people from Iceland who exhibit improved cognitive aging and never develop Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of worsening the disease, this protein reduced it, offering protection to the mice. The results were astounding – the treated mice were protected from Alzheimer’s disease for the duration of the study, with reduced protein Tau levels and preserved memory.

The question remains – could this treatment be applicable to humans? While this new therapy shows promise, Dhenain cautions that it is still in the conceptual stage. Scientists are exploring ways to transfer these protective Prions to humans, possibly through gene therapy to express the protein in the brain more easily than through local injections. This could lead to a simple intravenous injection treatment, but the process may take at least three more years to develop fully.

In conclusion, the discovery of this protective molecule offers a glimmer of hope for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. While the road to translating this treatment to humans may be long, the potential benefits are significant. With further research and development, this breakthrough could revolutionize the way we approach and treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.