Scientists look for clues behind mad-cow disease

It may seem odd, but scientists are studying a bovine disease-mad-cow disease-to find new ways to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. The reason for scientists to believe there is a connection (a common thread) between these diseases, is that each neurodegenerative disorder is caused by aberrant proteins that travel from cell to cell-effectively destroying whatever cell is in its way. This article was provided by Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, a Chicago Home Care Agency .

When normal cells are met by a deformed protein, normal function of that cell comes to a screeching halt which leads to a neurological issue. The causes of these issues are similar in theme among Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s and you guessed it: mad-cow. There are other diseases linked to deformed proteins (like Type 2 diabetes) but the difference is in diseases that damage brain activity, the deformed proteins are inclined to induce deformity in other proteins.

Theses deformities in proteins cannot be reversed, so the thought is that to find a cure for these diseases would involve stopping the deformed proteins from spreading to other healthy proteins. In a sense, what damage is done-is done-but by effectively halting this migration of deformed proteins to other proteins, the progression of the brain damage would be prevented. In diseases like Alzheimer’s, it’s thought that a tactic of such could be a solution to slow, stop, or even prevent occurrences of this disease.

In healthy proteins in our body, there is a process called folding where the cell takes a three-dimensional shape. This shape is what allows the protein to function normally-to carry out its duty to the body. When a protein is prevented from folding, it can become toxic. In a young body, there is a defense system to rid these toxic proteins from the body, but as the body ages, its ability to defend itself is weakened, thus less effective against said proteins. In diseases like Alzheimer’s, these toxic proteins travel to other healthy proteins causing them to misfold. This misfolding extinguishes normal function.

As mice are used for experimentation, further discoveries are made to conclude how prion diseases-diseases that cause neurological disorders-function. In one case study, mice were injected with a synthetic version of a deformed protein. Just like proteins associated with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, the synthetic protein passed from healthy protein to healthy protein causing crucial neurons in the mice’s brains to die. The deaths of these proteins lead to symptoms very similar to neurological diseases in humans.

Now, scientists are studying antibody therapy that could stop toxic proteins from moving to other healthy proteins. If the therapy works in mice, one day this type of therapy could be tested in humans.

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