A new approach to Alzheimer’s based on physics and worms
How a study on worms pointed the way towards a treatment for dementia.
- An increasing amount of research suggests that failures in phase transition within cells can cause a variety of aliments.
- The mechanism is believed to involve the inability of moleclues to move from solid to liquid and back, inhibiting cellular function.
- The discoveries open the door to treatments for neurodegenerative disease, some cancers, and other illnesses.
The human brain is both the tool we use to understand the world and one of our existence's great enigmas. For large parts of human history, it wasn't even credited with thinking. Countless great minds have tried to figure out how it works from biological, physical, and philosophical perspectives. Despite their efforts, we're still trying to understand how it works, why it breaks, and how to fix it when it does.
A new study sheds light on how the internal dynamics of the cells that comprise our brains can make it go haywire, and offer a potential route to a solution.
All matter is just going through a phase.
Think of liquid water for a moment. If you put it in the freezer, it'll turn to solid ice. Leave it out, and it will melt again. Boil it or leave it outside on a hot day, and it will all turn into water vapor eventually. This change in state is called a "phase transition" and is familiar to most people who took some physics or chemistry.
Phase transition sometimes takes place in cells. Molecules inside cells responsible for cellular metabolism can change from solid to liquid to carry out specific tasks. However, it occasionally happens that the process that allows this to happen breaks down, and the molecules remain a little more solid than is ideal. This means that the molecules are no longer able to move around the cell and do their jobs.
When this happens in certain cells in the brain, toxins associated with Alzheimer's disease and various other conditions start to build up in and around the cells. This discovery, based on previous studies from 2009, is the foundation of a theory on how neurodegenerative diseases start in our brains.
How did scientists develop this theory?
In 2009, a group of scientists discovered phase transitions and their importance in worms' reproductive cells. For reasons which are probably clear to you, this study didn't garner much attention right away. After a few years, the idea that glitchy phase transitions could cause a variety of issues gained some traction, and studies on phase transition in human brain cells took place. Dr. J Paul Taylor even won the Potamkin Prize, awarded for excellence in dementia research, for work concerning how faulty phase transition relates to neurodegenerative diseases.
What directions does this point in?
In his NPR interview, Dr. Taylor suggests that treatments for Alzheimer's and related diseases based on this new understanding could be available in a few years. In the same article, Dr. Clifford Brangwyane of Princeton explained that some experimental treatments have already shown promise in correcting the issues. He also suggests that phase transition treatments could be used against other illnesses and perhaps even some cancers.
Sometimes tremendous scientific advances are born out of the strangest studies. In this case, a potential treatment for a variety of terrible neurodegenerative diseases traces its roots to a study of worms. More bizarre things have happened in science.
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Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.
- The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
- The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
- Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.
- Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
- The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
- Millennials are more liberal and reform-centered than Generation Z.
A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
- A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.
Previous studies on misinformation have already paved the way to a better understanding<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1NzQ4NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjE2Mjg1Nn0.hs_xHktN1KXUDVoWpHIVBI2sMJy6aRK6tvBVFkqmYjk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C800%2C0%2C823&height=700" id="fc135" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="246bb1920c0f40ccb15e123914de1ab1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="fake news concept of misinformation and fake news in the media" />
How does misinformation spread?
Credit: Visual Generation on Shutterstock<p><strong>What is the "continued-influence" effect?</strong></p><p>A challenge in using corrections effectively is that repeating the misinformation can have negative consequences. Research on this effect (referred to as "continued-influence") has shown that information presented as factual that is later deemed false can still contaminate memory and reasoning. The persistence of the continued-influence effect has led researchers to generally recommend avoiding repeating misinformation. </p><p>"Repetition increases familiarity and believability of misinformation," <a href="https://engineering.stanford.edu/magazine/article/how-fake-news-spreads-real-virus" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the study explains</a>.</p><p><strong>What is the "familiarity-backfire" effect?</strong></p><p>Studies of this effect have shown that increasing misinformation familiarity through extra exposure to it leads to misattributions of fluency when the context of said information cannot be recalled. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620952797#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2017 study</a> examined this effect in myth correction. Subjects rated beliefs in facts and myths of unclear veracity. Then, the facts were affirmed and myths corrected and subjects again made belief ratings. The results suggested a role for familiarity but the myth beliefs remained below pre-manipulation levels. </p>