A neuron with amyloid plaque shows the impact of Alzheimer's on the brain. A neuron with amyloid plaque shows the impact of Alzheimer's on the brain. A neuron with amyloid plaque shows the impact of Alzheimer's on the brain. (Photo: Juan Gaertner / Shutterstock)

New gene discovery could reverse the effects of Alzheimer's

Scientists figure out how to turn a 'bad' gene into a 'good' one.

It's estimated that as many as 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Every 66 seconds, someone in this country develops the disease. So finding a cure, or even better treatments, is a top priority for scientists around the world.

While previous research has focused on the "plaque" that develops on a patient's brain, some innovative Israeli researchers have decided to look at another possible culprit: a specific gene. This APOE gene, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, has two faces: a healthy form called APOE3 and a diseased version called APOE4. Scientists at Tel Aviv University have just announced that they've figured out a way to convert the bad APOE4 gene into the good APOE3 one.

The research was led by Professor Daniel M. Michaelson, whose study was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

"APOE4 is a very important and understudied target," Michaelson said. "It is expressed in more than 60 percent of Alzheimer's patients. Anti-APOE4 treatments are thus expected to have a major impact on the patient population."

The researchers discovered that mice, which prior to the treatment exhibited disoriented behavior and seemed "lost," were able to locate a submerged island in the middle of an artificial pond after the treatment. Mice that had forgotten familiar objects – like Coca-Cola bottles – suddenly exhibited sharp object recognition.

Professor Ilana Gozes discovered how to reverse brain degeneration in mice.Professor Ilana Gozes discovered how to reverse brain degeneration in mice. (Photo: Tel Aviv University)

Tel Aviv University has emerged as a leading research institution when it comes to studying Alzheimer's. Another professor at the Israeli school, Dr. Ilana Gozes, uncovered a protein that has been shown in lab experiments to reverse the plaque that causes cognitive loss. More research done at the school, ranked one of the most entrepreneurial colleges in the world, found a link between brain hyperactivity and seizures in Alzheimer's patients.

Another scientist at Tel Aviv University named Dr. Beka Solomon discovered a virus that could potentially cure Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's. Renowned for pioneering immunotherapy treatments, she was selected by Scientific American for their list of the 50 Leading Scientists in the World. Together with her son Jonathan, a student at Harvard Business School, they created a company to help further explore her discovery.

"Is there really a magic bullet? One treatment that covers all aspects of Alzheimer's? Not likely," said Professor Michaelson. "Therefore there is a need to define specific subpopulations and to develop treatments targeted at genetic risk factors of the disease, like APOE4, which affects more than half of the Alzheimer's population."

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