Indian scientists have developed a non-biological technique for probing the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Thanks to the researchers, it has become easy to study the role of toxic metals like copper and iron, which trigger aggregations or clumps in the brain called amyloid plaques - the diagnostic feature of AD.
"The approach used by us was unique in that one can mimic the biological system on a surface. We do not need to immediately screen living organisms. These artificial scaffolds can be used to pre-screen drugs targeting these toxic metals," Abhishek Dey of the Department of Inorganic Chemistry, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), told IANS.
IACS is India's oldest research institute in suburbam Jadavpur.
"It also allowed us to test two soon-to-be patented drugs and thereby establish that they were effective in lowering the toxicity of these metals and may serve as therapeutic agents," said co-researcher Somdatta Ghosh Dey.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia over the age of 65, slowly gets worse over time.
Patients initially show mild symptoms including some memory loss. But as the disease progresses more severe memory loss occur leading to confusion and disorientation.
In later stages, patients may have to be institutionalised and are bedridden.
After 65, the risk of dementia doubles every five years.
According to WHO, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated at 35.6 million. This number will double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.
Reports also show that around the world, a new case of dementia occurs every four seconds. That is the equivalent of 7.7 million new cases each year.
It is estimated that over 3.7 million people in India are affected by dementia. This is expected to double by 2030.
The hallmark of AD is the abnormally large accumulation of a protein normally present in the brain called amyloid beta or A-beta peptide that forms amyloid plaques.
Certain metals like copper and iron are supposed to trigger the aggregation of the peptides into clumps or plaques.
These toxic metals bind to the A-beta peptide which leads to the generation of toxic substances in turn, partially reduced oxygen species (PROS).
PROS enter cells and wreak havoc by damaging proteins, lipids and DNA. This is termed as oxidative stress.
PROS also causes the A-beta peptide to clump up and then consequently lead to the formation of amyloid plaques.
In a country like India, where no policy for AD exists and where AD-related research is in the nascent stages, studies like these provide valuable insights into an enigmatic disease.
"We have been groping in the dark when it comes to AD and insights into the hows and whys of AD, including potential therapeutic agents, are most valued," P.G. Datta Ray, Director of Policy and Programmes, Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), Kolkata Chapter, told IANS.