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Washington University School of Medicine researchers have discovered a protein that could pave way for efficient treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The protein which was discovered in mice clears amyloid plaque from blood vessels brain tissue without any risk of bleeding.

Amyloid beta protein buildup has been identified as a cause of Alzheimer’s dementia when it accumulates to dangerous levels forming plaques in the brain’s blood vessels. The process is called cerebral amyloid angiopathy and it increases the risk of stroke. Researchers have been studying several antibodies that can potentially be used to clear the plaque but the studies have not reached clinical trials.

So far there has been significant progress with some of the antibodies in removing amyloid plaques, but scientists encounter side-effects such as bleeding and higher risk of brain swelling. However, there is a glimmer of hope for Alzheimer’s disease patients thanks to a recent discovery by Washington University School of Medicine researchers. They discovered an antibody which, when used in mice studies, successfully clears amyloid plaques in the brain, without previously observed risks such as brain bleeds or inflammation.

“Alzheimer’s researchers have been searching for decades for therapies that reduce amyloid in the brain, and now that we have some promising candidates, we find that there’s this complication,” noted Dr. David Holtzman, the senior author in the study.

Why the antibody in the recent discovery works when others did not

The antibody in the recent discovery overcomes the challenges observed with previous attempts by targeting apolipoprotein E (APOE), which is one of the component constituting amyloid plaques. Targeting this component proved to be an effective approach against amyloid plaque accumulating in the blood vessels and tissue in the brain without previously observed risks or side-effects such as bleeding.

Antibodies used to remove amyloid plaque in the brain alert the immune system that there are some unwanted or foreign material that needs to be cleaned. Inflammatory cells are deployed to clear the plaque, thus the side-effects. Using antibodies that target a small part of the plaque proved to be the winning approach because it triggers a more restrained approach to dealing with the amyloid plaque. This discovery was significant because successful treatment using the right body not only eliminates the risk of side-effects but also greater risks such as strokes.