Amyloid Beta: The Key to Unlocking Alzheimer's Disease?

The key to fighting Alzheimer's disease may be a single brain protein called amyloid beta, which is the subject of dozens of current scientific studies. A recent New York Times article summarized the current understanding about the role of amyloid beta in Alzheimer's disease as such: "The disease is defined by freckles of barnacle-like piles of a protein fragment, amyloid beta, in the brain. So, the current thinking goes, if you block amyloid formation or get rid of amyloid accumulations—plaque—and if you start treatment before the disease is well under way, you might have a chance to alter its course."


But Dr. Ottavio Arancio, a professor at Columbia University's Taub Institute and Big Think expert, says the situation is more complicated than that. His research team is at the forefront of the race to understand amyloid proteins, but they are taking a different approach, trying to understand the beneficial side of amyloid beta. Dr. Arancio told Big Think recently that amyloid beta exists in very small amounts in normal brains, a fact which puzzled most researchers:
"What most scientists thought was that it was kind of piece of garbage in the brain of people with no relevance whatsoever, and instead we have started working on it and we have found that actually the very likely function of this protein in very low amounts is there to lead to normal memory. So without it we could not store information in the brain, we could not learn, and there would not be normal memory."
Dr. Arancio says that understanding the normal functioning of amyloid beta might shed light on the ravages of Alzheimer's. The question, he says, is, "how does a good protein turn into a bad protein?" 
5.3 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer's disease, and pharmaceutical companies are understandably eager to discover a cure. Currently, 100 different Alzheimer's drugs are in development, according to the Times. But these drugs work mostly by attacking amyloid beta, which Dr. Arancio's studies suggest plays a small but crucial role in proper memory functioning. Also, these drug studies can take up to a dozen years, so a cure is still years away. 

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less