SUSAN GREENFIELD

Scientist • Writer • Broadcaster

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Neurodegeneration

Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease: an aberrant form of development and a two-pronged cure?

As a population, we are living longer. Consequently, neurodegenerative diseases associated with older age, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are set to become the scourge of the 21st Century.

Susan's theory of neurodegeneration

The crucial question that Susan is trying to answer is - what is the basic mechanism of neurodegeneration?

Whenever brain cells are damaged, say by a stroke, or blow to the head, recovery of function will usually occur to some extent. However, if certain cells are damaged, a chemical is released that usually only operates in younger, developing brains.

Since the brain is now mature, this chemical will kill the cells, creating more damage and causing more release of the now toxic chemical. This cycle of cell death will present itself as neurodegeneration.

See more details of her company’s research on neuro-bio.com.

A two-pronged approach

The Greenfield Group believes they have identified this chemical turned killer and the molecular target through which it acts. They propose a two-pronged approach:

  1. To develop a way of monitoring the chemical in routine blood samples, ideally before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease ever appear.
  2. To devise a pharmaceutical means for intercepting the killer chemical before it interacts with its target, thereby arresting further cell death.

Success with either of these goals would be a major advance, whilst a combination of both would represent a real turning point.

The combined strategy would be to detect raised levels of the killer chemical in the blood, before the symptoms appeared and then to immediately start on a course of medication to prevent further cell death. The symptoms then would never appear - an effective ‘cure’.

These goals are still a long way off and much work needs to be done to translate thinking in a laboratory to reality in the clinic.