July 29, 2014

A Brain-Protecting Protein - Dr. Bruce Yankner

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Highlights from our Alzheimer’s Talks with Dr. Bruce Yankner.

This study led by Dr. Bruce Yankner, of the Harvard University Medical School, is a huge breakthrough in our understanding of how the brain works. Here are a few key highlights from our conversation:

  1. Those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias show significantly lower levels of a protein called the repressor element 1-silencing transcription factor (or REST protein) that normally appears in the aging brain.
  2. In lab tests and animal studies, the REST protein protected brain cells from dying when exposed to a number of age-related stresses, including the amyloid protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
  3. Yankner and his research team used a computer program to search for the primary causes of the gene changes in the aging brain, which led them to REST.
  4. Higher levels of REST were linked to a better memory in aged individuals.
  5. A key to the study is that it illustrates a novel approach to understanding neurodegenerative diseases. Instead of focusing on the negative changes that cause disease, researchers looked for weaknesses in the brain’s defenses.  The work also uniquely examines Alzheimer’s disease in the context of the aging process.
  6. Dr. Yankner’s team is conducting further research for tests to determine if the REST protein is turned on as well as possible treatments to activate the REST protein.

Understanding is critical to stopping Alzheimer’s and this is a big step forward. Once we know better how the brain works, we’ll know how to stop this disease. Dr. Yankner and his team are already on the way.

We’re grateful Dr. Yankner took time to clearly explain his research. This is one conversation you’ll want to make sure you take time to play it back.