Alzheimer’s a form of cancer?
For several years, Alzheimer’s disease has been a much-discussed and somewhat controversial topic among neuroscientists. The progressively debilitating disease is now the fourth–and may soon be the third–leading cause of death in the United States, yet its underlying biology remains largely a mystery.
Because many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease resemble those of normal aging, much of the current research effort is aimed at finding biochemical "markers’ that are unique to Alzheimer patients. Peter Davies, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, reported last year the first (and still the only) such marker–a protein found in the brain tissue of Alzheimer patients but absent in the normal elderly (SN: 11/22/86, p.327). Researchers still don’t know what role the protein plays in the course of the disease, but more information should be forthcoming once its amino acid sequence is determined. That process may be completed in a matter of months, Davies says.
Meanwhile, Davies last week presented some surprising new evidence that the protein in question, called A68, is not entirely unique to Alzheimer patients, but is found in the normal developing fetus and infant. "It appears around 32 weeks of fetal life and disappears by age 2,’ Davies says. "This suggests that the protein normally has a function to assist in brain development.’
One intriguing possibility, he says, is …