Year of selection 2010
Today, we live longer than ever before. In many ways, this is good news, but an aging population comes with a significant risk of age-related conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease. A number of different forms of dementia are known to involve a protein in the brain called Tau. When Tau is abnormally shaped, it interferes with the correct functioning of neurons, eventually destroying them.
For this reason, Tau appears to be a good target both for detecting the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s and potentially finding treatments. Etienne Baulieu’s team has already discovered that when the abnormal Tau is causing trouble in the brain, it is also seen interacting with a particular protein. The scientists suspect that this association could be at the root of such diseases. What if this interaction could be controlled or altered? Could we slow down the development of Alzheimer’s disease? In other studies, the types of drugs capable of changing this protein interaction have already had success in protecting neurons. And, since Tau’s “protein partner in crime” is found all over the brain, this may hold promise for developing therapies for certain neurodegenerative diseases.
As both researchers and families of patients with dementia know, these diseases progress with time, usually worsening over the course of five to fifteen years. For Baulieu, this time frame represents a window of opportunity to fight the onset of Tau-related diseases with a totally new approach. Targeting the interaction of the two proteins could help researchers find a way to delay the development of symptoms. It could even provide an early indicator of a person’s risk of developing dementia, he believes. But first, to reach these goals, a very clear understanding of the way the proteins interact, on a variety of levels, is needed.
By the end of this century, some researchers believe that 50% of the global population will reach the age of 100, leaving them more susceptible to conditions linked to aging. The consequences of the dependence resulting from dementia-related illnesses is a painful and difficult challenge for patients, families and society alike. Baulieu’s project aims to use a new approach to predict the development of disease and delay or even prevent the onset of devastating symptoms.
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