Alzheimer's disease runs in my wife's side of the family, which, of course, is a cause for serious concern. It's been proven that people who have a history of AD in their bloodline are often at risk for the disease themselves, a fact that chills me to the bone. As such, I've developed a vested interest in Alzheimer's, as well as preventive measures that can be taken before symptoms manifest. After all, I'd like to keep my family around for as long as humanly possible.
Scientists have been doing their part to combat the disease for several years, though treatment options are spotty at best. Presently, there isn't a cure for Alzheimer's disease, though certain medications can be used to slow the progression. In other words, once your loved one starts developing the symptoms, managing their life to provide maximum comfort is usually the only thing you can do. Certain drugs are available to help cope with aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors, but, sadly, this disease cannot be properly contained.
However, researchers have recently discovered that rapamycin, a bacteria found in the soil on Easter Island, could be used to reverse the decline of cognitive skills and, ultimately, stop the effects of Alzheimer’s on the human brain. Initially, rapamycin was used as an antifungal medication, though all of that changed when scientists discovered it could prevent organ rejection is those who had undergone transplants.
In recent studies, rapamycin was able to improve the cognitive abilities of laboratory mice. According to Dr. Veronica Galvin of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the University of Texas, this discovery could lead the charge in the battle against AD.
"We made the young ones learn, and remember what they learned, better than what is normal," Gavin explained. "Among the older mice, the ones fed with a diet including rapamycin actually showed an improvement, negating the normal decline that you see in these functions with age."
When the mice were introduced to a high-elevation maze, rapamycin seemed to have a calming effect on its subjects. "We found rapamycin acts like an antidepressant -- it increases the time the mice are trying to get out of the situation. They don't give up; they struggle more," Gavin continued. "All of a sudden the mice are in open space. It's pretty far from the floor for their size, sort of like if a person is hiking and suddenly the trail gets steep. It's pretty far down and not so comfortable. We observed that the mice fed with a diet containing rapamycin spent significantly more time out in the open arms of the catwalk than the animals fed with a regular diet. So we can measure how much and how often they struggle as a measure of the motivation they have to get out of an uncomfortable situation."
Much like the study which suggests anti-inflammatory medication could be used to treat the disease, it's unclear whether or not this Easter Island bacteria will be the miracle sure millions of people are hoping for. Still, it gives one hope that the battle against Alzheimer's is still underway.