Alzheimer's Cure May Be Coming

At an international conference in Amsterdam Wednesday, new hopes emerged in the battle against Alzheimer's, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips.

Boston geneticist Dr. Rudolph Tanzi described a newly discovered gene abnormality that may explain what causes the debilitating disease.

Tanzi explained how brain function in the elderly becomes impaired when the contact point between brain cells becomes clogged up with a kind of brain grunge called alpha-beta particles.

Normally a protein called alpha-2M also shows up between the cells and attacks and destroys the clogging particles. But when the newly discovered gene is abnormal, the cleansing process doesn't happen.

"Then in a lifetime you gonna get a little bit more accumulation of this stuff than the person who has a perfectly normal alfpha-2m and that might be why you get Alzheimer's at 85 and your neighbor who has a normal a2m doesn't," said Tanzi.

Researchers warn they have not found and instant cure. What they have found is a pathway that could lead to effective treatment. The brain substance that they have discovered is linked to Alzheimer's has been known about for some time. Researchers are familiar with the substance, and they think they can find a way to fix it.

"What's really fantastic here is that it's not just a drug that's going to treat symptoms that we're aiming at," said Tanzi. "It's a drug that would get right to the root causes of the disease even if it takes five to ten years."

As more people live longer into the Alzheimer's danger zone, the need for such a cure has never been greater.

Reported by Mark Phillips
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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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