A major barrier to finding a treatment for dementia is that we still don’t really know what causes it. Many risk factors have been identified, from genes and the environment to lifestyle, but how these trigger the disease is unclear. Abnormal protein deposits are commonly found in brains of dementia patients but their role in the disease process is similarly murky. When a nerve is stressed certain proteins aggregate into rod-shaped deposits, these impair the conduction of signals and in the long term cause it to die. These rods can be triggered by many of the major risk factors for dementia and may therefore be the common factor underlying its various forms. The ability to reverse or block rod formation would offer an exciting new avenue for slowing or reversing Alzheimer’s disease.
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