COULD scientists be close to finding a vaccine or cure for Alzheimer's disease? While, unfortunately, the answer is 'not yet', there does seem a case for saying exercise and diet and a healthy lifestyle could go some way to preventing the disease. A discussion by two leading scientific researchers into the disease which will affect 50 per cent of all 90 year-olds in the UK and already afflicts 800,000 Britons threw up these possibilities at the Cheltenham Science Festival.
With life expectancy increasing, rates of Alzheimer's will also increase and the Helix Theatre in Imperial Square was packed for the talks by Professor Clive Holmes and Professor James Nicoll, who both work at the University of Southampton. Professor Holmes explained research into the brains of people with the disease showed the presence of amyloid plaque on the surface of the grey matter.
He said: "Were all familiar with flu, we feel low, we can't concentrate at work, we don't want to go out and party - an inflammation outside the brain affects brain function temporarily."
The Professor's thesis was that such inflammations, which could also include trauma such as falls, caused inflammation in a healthy brain, but with only minor effects. But in a brain with a lot of amyloid plaques such inflammation had serious consequences - it caused brain cells to die, and lead to the deterioration of memory and intellectual function that gives Alzheimer's disease the nickname of 'the long goodbye'.
Professor Holmes said: "Exer-cise, I'm afraid, is the best way of preventing Alzheimer's, walking for 20 minutes three or four times a week cuts the likelihood of Alzheimer's three-or-four-fold."
Professor Nicoll described the process of investigating whether immunising patients with the disease with a specific protein prevented the build-up of that protein into amyloid plaques on the brain.
He said: "The studies showed that immunising people compared to the placebo group, did reduce the amount of plaque on the brain. I thought this was going to be the treatment for Alzheimer's, but unfortunately it didn't seem to make a difference in loss of cognitive function, or life expectancy.
"We don't quite know why." The talk at the festival was sponsored by the British Society for Immunology and Alzheimer's Research UK.
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