Alzheimer’s is a serious disease that affects millions of Americans, and at the moment there is no cure, however a new study suggests we may be on the road to the next best thing: a prevention. According to the study, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are working to develop a pill that would prevent the accumulation of toxic molecules in the brain, which might be enough to prevent the disease.

Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not clear, scientists understand that the accumulation of “plaque” in the brain contributes to disease onset. The plaque is made from a protein called tau, which naturally accumulates in the brain as a person ages. The scientists screened a number of enzymes, called kinases, to understand which were associated with reduced levels of tau. Eventually they found that inhibiting one particular enzyme called Nuak1 resulted in reduced levels of plaque build-up in the brains of fruit flies, mice, and human brain cell cultures.

"The next step is to develop drugs that will inhibit Nuak1 in hope that one day would be able to lower tau levels with low toxicity in individuals at risk for dementia due to tau accumulation," explained Dr. Juan Botas, one of the scientists involved in the study, in a recent statement.

Although the research is still in its infancy, the team hopes that one day it could translate to high-risk patients taking a pill to lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s, just like individuals with high cholesterol take drugs to lower their risk of heart disease.

Along similar lines, earlier this year researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide Australia teamed up with a ­research team at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, and University of California, Irvine to develop a vaccine that would also prevent the buildup of tau. The vaccine would work by making the immune system produce antibodies that help to clear away excess tau in the brain. Although not yet ready for human trials, the team hope that the vaccine could be ready in as little as five years, The Australian reported.

Source: Lasagna-Reeves CA, de Haro M, Hao S, et al. Reduction of Nuak1 Decreases Tau and Reverses Phenotypes in a Tauopathy Mouse Model. Neuron . 2016

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