February 1, 2012 — The decades-long debate on how Alzheimer’s Disease progresses may finally be resolved with the recent release of two breakthrough studies in Alzheimer’s research and treatment.

These independent studies in mice (conducted by researchers from Columbia and Harvard) suggest that Alzheimer’s disease seems to spread like an infection from brain cell to brain cell.  Instead of viruses or bacteria, what is being spread is a distorted protein called ‘tau.’  The exciting news is that these studies show that it may be possible to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing the cell-to-cell transmission with an antibody that blocks ‘tau.’  While it will take years to further test these findings, and develop a treatment plan based on this research, it is igniting excitement among researchers and hope among patients and their families.

Researchers have known that dying, tau-filled cells first show up in a small area of the brain where memories are made and stored, and then the disease slowly spreads to other areas of the brain.  Prior to the release of these surprising study findings, experts believed Alzheimer’s was spread from neuron to neuron, perhaps along the same paths that nerve cells use to communicate with one another.  Another school of thought held that some brain areas were simply more resilient to the disease than others.  These recent studies disprove both of these hypotheses.  To read the full story reported in The New York Times click on this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/health/research/alzheimers-spreads-like-a-virus-in-the-brain-studies-find.ht