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July 24, 2005

Human Innovation: Memory lost, memory restored

Alzheimer’s disease devastates the lives of millions. It robs people of their memories and leaves their brains a tangled mess. But now the first glimmers of light and hope may have penetrated through these tangled vines of murdered memory.

The tangled neurons found in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims have long been hypothesized as a cause of the memory loss and cognitive dysfunction associated with the disease. But new research has shown that the tangles may be merely another symptom, and better yet, a symptom of relative unimportance to the main problem the disease causes – memory loss.

Scientists have now induced both the tangles and the memory loss in mice by blocking the activity of a gene. This gene-block caused the mice to forget how to perform a task for which they had been trained. It also produced the same kind of tangled neurons seen in Alzheimer’s. But when the gene was re-activated the mice’s memories returned, while the tangles remained. This finding raises the possibility that the tangles may be a symptom rather than a cause, and that Alzheimer’s may be susceptible to genetic therapy.

This breakthrough holds great hope for uncovering the real cause of the memory loss Alzheimer’s causes, and for dramatically reducing tax-funded health care costs. You can learn more about this research here.

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