Care for a Brain Wash? Potential New Insight to Alzheimers

by Howard Gerber on September 20, 2012

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Care for a Brain Wash? Potential New Insight to Alzheimers

The brain, and the effects of aging, are still widely misunderstood. But new research reported by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center sheds light on something new and different, a drainage system that periodically washes the brain down. They discovered that in a healthy brain, cerebrospinal fluid circulates constantly, washing out proteins that build up and might lead to Alzheimer’s. The proteins are carried away through the cells and into the body, where they can be harmlessly absorbed. The researchers called the cleaning system the “glymphatic system,” because it’s similar to the lymphatic system and facilitated by glial cells.

Fluorescent Mice Brains

Researchers traced the system by adding fluorescent and radioactive tracing elements to the cerebrospinal fluid of mice and observing the movement of the fluid with two-photon microscopy. The fluid permeated the entire brain through the sheathing of the blood vessels. The research team found that waste, including the amyloid-beta peptide that builds up to form the plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, is flushed out through large veins designed for drainage. They speculate that failure of the drainage system might be responsible for several disease states.

Putting Knowledge to Use

Much more research is necessary, but if the researchers are correct and drainage system breakdown proves responsible for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues, it could present an exciting opportunity for senior care. Perhaps one day we will check in to an outpatient center for a soothing brainwash to keep their minds functioning properly, just as kidney patients report regularly for dialysis.

It’s a little early for such wild speculation, but exciting to contemplate the possibilities. Anyone who has had a relative or patient sink into the heartbreaking muddle of Alzheimer’s and watched them forget family, friends, and basic necessities of day-to-day life, like turning off the stove, can appreciate the potential of ending life with an intact brain, in full possession of mental faculties, surrounded by loved ones and not confusing, frightening strangers.

Some experts advise caution. It’s just too early to tell whether stimulation of the glymphatic system will have any effect on Alzheimer’s or dementia. The amyloid-beta plaques may prove to be a symptom, not the cause. We can’t assume that a good cleaning is the answer until we better understand the problem. But for what it’s worth, it’s still a giant step forward, and it doesn’t hurt to be optimistic about the eventual outcome. If we glean nothing but a better understanding of the brain, it is research well spent.

 

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