Alzheimer’s disease is one of the leading causes of death in the US. Recent studies have estimated that as many as 50 million Americans could be in the early stages of the disease. However, despite extensive research, doctors still don’t know what causes it, or the best way to treat it. Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, although scientists have been working on new techniques in the last few years including genetic engineering techniques.

When it comes to finding new and effective treatments to help improve the lives of Alzheimer’s sufferers, finding out what causes the illness is key. As part of ongoing research into this, a new study, which was published in Neuron, has suggested that it could be linked to a common virus – the human herpes virus. There was strong evidence in the study that two strains of the virus – 6A and 7 could contribute to the deterioration of the body’s memory and cognitive functions.

The researchers looked at data from 622 people who had shown signs of the disease and 322 who didn’t. As a result, they found that the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s symptoms had twice the levels of the herpes virus than those who didn’t. This supports long-standing opinions of some scientist, who have believed that viruses could play a role in Alzheimer’s for many years. The theory is that the disease could be triggered by the brain’s natural response to injury, infection or viruses.

Joel Dudley, a geneticist and a member of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center was one of the authors in the study. He said in a statement: “I don’t think we can answer whether herpes viruses are a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease. But what’s clear is that they’re perturbing networks and participating in networks that directly accelerate the brain towards the Alzheimer’s topology.” He added that this could help scientists identify virus biomarkers that could accurately assess someone’s risk of developing the condition.

Another co-author of the study, Dr. Sam Gandy, a professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai in New York also commented: “This is the most compelling evidence ever presented that points to a viral contribution to the cause or progression of Alzheimer’s. While these findings do potentially open the door for new treatment options to explore in a disease where we’ve had hundreds of failed trials, they don’t change anything that we know about the risk and susceptibility of Alzheimer’s disease or our ability to treat it today,”

 

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