Researchers have found that signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be seen in people who are as young as 20 years old.
Amyloid proteins, at first thought to only build up together in older Alzheimer’s patients, are now found to began binding to one another in people as young as 20 years old.
In a healthy brain, amyloid protein fragments are produced normally and are broken down. However, the fragments accumulate to form hard and insoluble plaques in Alzheimer’s patients.
With amyloid plaques present, a protein called tau becomes abnormal, causing microtubules inside the fibers of the brain’s nerve cells to collapse. Microtubules are essential in transporting nutrients and other important substances from one nerve cell to another.
The collapse causes the fibers to twist together, resulting in neurofibrillary tangles that decay neuronal endings, causing brain tissues to shrink.
Researchers at Harvard are conducting the first large clinical trial to scan the brains of healthy patients for higher levels of tau protein before memory loss begins.
The Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study invites those that have an elevated level of amyloid plaque in their brain but have no outward signs of the disease to participate in the study.
Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva of Central Hospital at the University of San Luis Potosi in Mexico believe that skin biopsies could also detect levels of tau protein since the skin has the same origin as brain tissue while in the embryo.
Five million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s, and researchers believe that by 2050, 16 million will be affected.