Bacteria could cause the chronic disease Alzheimer’s. That’s a radical thinking shift from the last twenty years of Alzheimer’s research which has targeted developing drugs to target sticky clumps of protein pieces called beta-amyloid. Despite billions being invested to understand how the beta-amyloid contributes to a slow, cognitive decline, the disease remains a mystery.
Garth Ehrlich, PhD, a professor in the College of Medicine and director of the Center for Genomic Sciences says “there is nothing new you can do for an Alzheimer’s patient that you couldn’t do 20 years ago.”
A study from Drexel researchers offers new evidence to support a controversial hypothesis: Alzheimer’s disease results from the body’s inflammatory response to chronic infections. The scientists believe that bacteria create slimy, impenetrable biofilms in the brain, prompting the immune system to destroy surrounding tissue.
Once bacteria metamorphose into a biofilm, antibiotics can no longer treat them.
Dr. Ehrlich and other Drexel University faculty members are among a group of scientists who think the direction of Alzheimer’s research needs to be rerouted.
Rather than developing drugs to try and target the beta-amyloid (as is the direction of most current studies), researchers could be putting efforts into developing more reliable tests for bacterial detection in the central nervous system and investigating new anti-biofilm treatments.
Assistant Professor of Neurology Robert Moir, teamed up with Professor of Child Neurology and Mental Retardation Rudolph Tanzi, both of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital to lead The Brain Microbiome Project. Their goal to find out what bacteria can be found in the brain and which are friendly and which aren’t.
Dr. Moir told The Harvard Gazette, “The things creeping around in the brain will scare the heebie-jeebies out of you. If an infection does prove to be the source of Alzheimer’s, we should be able to recognize it easily and wipe it out, before any neurological damage takes place, which means the end of Alzheimer’s as we know it.
The antidote can’t happen soon enough. Alzheimer’s affects 5.3 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is the only one of the top ten killers that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. In 2015, Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost the nation $226 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise to $1.1 trillion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.