Virus May Help Docs Treat Alzheimer's Through the Nose
> 8/23/2007 10:23:00 AM

Two days ago, we discussed recent news that some of Alzheimer's symptoms may be caused or at least preceded by olfactory problems. Now it seems possible that the cure for this dementia may lie in the nose as well. Dr. Beka Solomon from Tel Aviv University recently presented an innovative new treatment based on this assumption at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

Dr. Solomon's technique has the goal of breaking down the neural plaque suspected of causing most of the disease's destruction. This is a fairly common objective for scientists working on a cure for this disease, but Solomon managed to get past both the blood-brain barrier and the side-effects that accompany other treatments. Scraping plaque from the brain, as one might imagine, is a far more delicate procedure than cleaning teeth.

The blood-brain barrier is a daunting obstacle for both harmful invaders and helpful medication. There are some indications that a breakdown of the BBB lets in the amyloid beta implicated in Alzheimer's brain damage, but even in weakened patients the BBB remains strong enough to prevent most medications from reaching the brain. Solomon enlisted the help of a bacterial virus called filamentous bacteriophage to infiltrate the brain through the nasal passages. The narrow strands of this phage can creep lightly past the gatekeeper to feed upon the neural plaque. When it runs out of food, it dies off, leaving the patient free of both the virus and plaque.

This technique has been performed successfully on laboratory mice engineered to have the symptoms of Alzheimer's. After one year of treatment, mice had a 80% reduction in plaque. In addition to the physical change, there was a definite observable change in symptoms and behavior. Treated mice regained their sense of smell and much of their ability to remember maze routes.

While it may seem dangerous to fight Alzheimer's with a virus, such a formidable disease requires a powerful enemy. If the phage works similarly on humans, it may soon be possible to reverse the degeneration that has ruined so many Alzheimer's sufferers.

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