The terrible disease of Alzheimer is known to steal many of our memories, and since the condition is incurable, they are lost forever. People suffering from Alzheimer’s will not remember their first love, the birth of their children, their career achievements, or even their relatives. However, a new study gives new hope for the effects of the disease.
While Alzheimer’s supposedly destroys memories by attacking the system of how they are encoded. Scientists have come up with a new theory that questions this previous statement: that memories do not actually disappear, they just become inaccessible.
Published by Susumu Tonegawa from the Institute of Technology in Massachusetts, the newest study on the matter is the first to feature strong evidence of the second theory. The results bring hope to the world that precious memories once thought to be lost forever can now be retrieved.
Tonegawa, who has won the Nobel Prize in 1987, has stated that his study stands as proof of the concept. Since the memories are hidden somewhere in the mind, the only problem that remains is retrieving them.
His research involved a couple of mice split into two groups. The first one included normal animals while the second one was made of mice suffering from Alzheimer’s symptoms. All the mice experienced a mild electric shock. In this way, Tonegawa observed that the first group remember the trauma because they feared the box where they received the shock. However, the second group presented no special reaction when placed in the same box.
The research continued with the affected mice by stimulating tagged cells located in the hippocampus of their brains with a special type of light. Next, the animals were placed again in the box, and they showed the same reaction as their normal siblings.
What happened is that the neurons were boosted and thus regrew dendritic spines, small buds that create connections with cells. This is a truly revolutionary discovery, since scientists have long thought about this idea from the 1980s, but were never able to prove it.
However, the technique of recovering lost memory cannot yet be transferred to a safe procedure for humans, as Alzheimer’s Society director of research Doug Brown has pointed out. While it may take some years before the procedure can be implemented for the 44 million people who suffer from the disease, this is a crucial step in curing it.
The results of the study were published in the Nature journal, which also reported that the deep stimulation of the hippocampus part of the brain can improve memory in certain Alzheimer’s patients.
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