Scientists Unlock One of Alzheimer’s Mysteries

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A research team reported in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature that it had identified an enzyme, presenilin, that controls the production of a protein believed to be responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease. Some 4 million Americans suffer from the debilitating memory loss. “This is encouraging news for those afflicted with the devastating disease,” says TIME medical columnist Christine Gorman, “but Alzheimer’s is still far from being conquered.” As with so many other medical discoveries, doctors and patients need to remain cautious. “The report is significant from a research point of view,” says Gorman, “but it needs to be verified with further testing. For the moment it has no clinical applications.”

On the broader front against Alzheimer’s, however, the latest discovery suggests that Alzheimer’s may eventually be beaten. Along with academic researchers, many drug companies are hot on the trail of the disease. “And pharmaceutical companies don’t spend the time and money to study things unless they think they have a good chance of developing a drug,” says Gorman. Thursday’s report gives encouragement that further study may eventually yield a payoff. But for now many questions still remain to be answered, not the least of which is this: If presenilin is indeed shown to be involved in causing Alzheimer’s disease, is it the only, the main or one of several causative factors?