Expat insurance policyholders who suffer from Alzheimer's disease may be able to benefit from innovative treatment options in the future, following research that has shown how the illness could spread.
The study, undertaken by scientists from the Columbia University Medical Center and published in online journal PloS One, indicated the condition could spread through neurological connections to reach different parts of the brain.
Experts have been arguing for decades whether or not Alzheimer's affects vulnerable regions of the mind at different times or if it spreads from one area to others and the findings add strong support to the latter interpretation.
Researchers demonstrated that abnormal tau proteins can jump across neurons, with this substance known to be a key part of the neurofibrillary tangles seen in the brains of people with the condition.
Alzheimer's disease is characterised by plaques made from ayloid-beta protein and fibrous tangles comprising of abnormal tau accumulating within the human mind.
Studies have indicated the ailment begins within the entorhinal cortex, which is associated with memory, before progressing to regions of the brain linked to higher cognitive functions.
Scientists used mice that were genetically predisposed to a spread of abnormal tau and had their brains mapped over 22 months.
As the animals grew older, the substance spread along a linked pathway, leading from the entorhinal cortex to other areas and mirroring what is seen in the early stages of Alzheimer's in humans.
It is thought this investigation could enable the development of therapies that could stop the progression of the illness and allow for a more in-depth understanding of how it affects the mind.
"If, as our data suggest, tau pathology starts in the entorhinal cortex and emanates from there, the most effective approach may be to treat Alzheimer's the way we treat cancer – through early detection and treatment, before it has a chance to spread," study co-author Dr Scott Small explained.
Alzheimer's disease is the most frequently-occurring form of dementia, a condition that is more common as people get older.
Approximately one in every 14 individuals over the age of 65 are affected by dementia, with this rising to one in six among those older than 80.
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