Japanese researchers at the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics have come up with a new theory that claims Alzheimer’s victims may not have lost their memories but only have difficulties accessing them. They have come up with a cure which they believe could be a possible treatment.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating cognitive condition which is suffered by over 70% of older people around the world.
One of the researchers, 1987 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology and Medicine Susumu Tonegawa said he had carried out an experiment on mice. He discovered that when some parts of the brain were stimulated by blue light– a technique called optogenetics, the scientists were able to make the mice remember some thoughts that were unavailable to them prior to this. This led to his theory that victims of Alzheimer’s are unable to access their thoughts rather than the widely acclaimed reasoning that they have lost their memories. Tonegawa told AFP,
“As humans and mice tend to have a common principle in terms of memory, our findings suggest that Alzheimer’s disease patients, at least in their early stages, may also keep memories in their brains, which means there may be a possibility of a cure.”
The mice used in the experiment were genetically modified to express similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease patients. They were put in a box which had electric current — albeit at a low level passing through the floor. When a mouse was placed in, they got a shock to their feet.
The mice which were unaffected panicked in fear of the electric shock when returned to the box 24 hours later. However, mice affected by the induced Alzheimer’s did not panic.
When the scientists stimulated certain parts of their brain, especially the engram cells which are connected with memory, the mice seemed to recall the tragedy and even reacted negatively when placed in a different box.
They also noticed that the mice with the induced Alzheimer’s had less spines which increased when their brain was stimulated with the blue light.
Tonegawa praised the research as good news for Alzheimer’s disease patients. He also added that the research still had a long way to go.
“Early-stage Alzheimer’s may be cured in the future should a new technology that meets ethical and safety conditions for treating humans be developed,” he said.