An Unconventional Step Taken in Understanding Alzheimer’s

By Brian Costa

According to a recent study, researchers have learned that there may be a connection between bone loss and Alzheimer’s. A finding like this is incredibly important for the brain deteriorating illness that is Alzheimer’s, as most cases of the disease cannot be linked back to genetic markers that can be analyzed to examine a patient’s potential for developing the disease. In other words, it is hard to know who has the disease until behavioral and neurological signs appear, by which point treatment becomes nearly impossible. However, the newfound relationship between bone loss and Alzheimer’s may lead to a method for detecting Alzheimer’s before the classical symptoms materialize.

The Northeast Ohio Medical University researchers worked with mice dubbed Htau mice which were genetically engineered to contain a type of the tau protein, a protein in humans that fails to function properly when they have Alzheimer’s. Departing from the classical method of studying only the brain mass and structure of the afflicted mice, the researchers measured the bone mineral density of the mice before the tau protein behaved irregularly and after the abnormality transpired (MNT). By doing so, they discovered that Htau mice had far less bone mineral density than mice that were healthy.

While the study has found a correlation between bone loss and Alzheimer’s, there is still more research to be done before understanding the mechanics of this relationship. Therefore, the Northeast Ohio Medical University team now believes that that studies and research should now be invested in uncovering the so-called “molecular mechanism” between bone loss and decreased levels of serotonin (MNT). Christine Dengler-Crish, who is an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Northeast Ohio Medical University, argues that if this mechanism can be found, then, “Measurement of bone density, which is routinely performed in the clinic, could serve as a useful biomarker for assessing AD [Alzheimer’s disease] risk in our aging population” (MNT). Biomarkers, as discussed in an article by Kyle Strimbu, are “objective indications of medical state observed from outside the patient- which can be measured accurately and reproducibly” (NCBI). Therefore, if these markers can be detected early by doctors, preventive measures can be taken to reduce the chances of contracting Alzheimer’s in possible patients.  

This research is still in its infancy and cannot be used in clinical trials yet. Yet, the correlation found in this study may open new and original pathways that scientists may investigate. Instead of focusing solely on the nervous system, researchers can examine the relationship the disease has on other parts of the human body, thus revealing more clues about the mechanisms of the disorder and towards possible treatments.

It is essential that scientists continue to research and learn more about a disease that about 5.1 million Americans currently have (AFA) and that has been approximated to afflict half a million Americans that are currently younger than 65 years old (AFA). Alzheimer’s, whose symptoms include disorientation, behavioral changes, major confusion, and memory loss and get progressively worse over time, thus reduced people into mere shells; patients drift aimlessly without memories to anchor them in reality. It is a disease that robs people of their souls and minds, leading to a life that many would argue is worse than death. To save these patients and those who may contract the disease in the future, researchers must remain stalwart in their studies and continue to explore possible relationships between Alzheimer’s and areas of the body they have never before considered.

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