Doctors closer to unlocking mystery surrounding Alzheimer's disease

Researchers at University of North Florida move closer to major breakthrough

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter, Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer

HOUSTON - Doctors may be one step closer to unlocking the mystery surrounding Alzheimer's disease.

More than 5 million Americans and their families are living with Alzheimer's. Melissa Murray lost her grandmother to Alzheimer's disease. Today, Murray is helping find a cure as a neuroscience graduate student.

She and fellow researchers at the University of North Florida are moving closer to a major breakthrough.

"We looked at 1,400 brains that were donated to us to find if it is tau or amyloid (protein) that is causing this cognitive decline. The two hallmark brain diseases in Alzheimer's disease," Murray said.

After years of studying, the team discovered it is the tau protein driving the relationship.

Tau proteins are found in the central nervous system. Researchers describe them as railroad ties that help stabilize the train track that moves vital messages to the brain.

"In Alzheimer's what happens is, those railroad ties become bulky and it causes that train to derail," Murray said.

Abnormal tau proteins build up, and eventually cause kill neurons in central nervous system, leading to memory loss.

Murray said targeting these proteins should be the new focus for researchers looking for an Alzheimer's cure.

"On the horizon is this really exciting tau imaging where you can look inside a person's brain while they are alive to see the accumulation of this protein," she said.

The Houston chapter of the Alzheimer's Association is holding a conference next month to help caregivers deal with everything from grief and loss to financial issues facing families dealing with Alzheimer's. To register, click here.

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