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HEALTH & LIFESTYLE - New Treatment Could Prevent, Reverse Alzheimer's

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In the 2014 file photo, Baltimore Ravens' football player Kyle Juszczyk (44) goes flying after a collision in an NFL preseason football game. Football players can suffer from brain disorder after being hit in the head many times. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
In the 2014 file photo, Baltimore Ravens' football player Kyle Juszczyk (44) goes flying after a collision in an NFL preseason football game. Football players can suffer from brain disorder after being hit in the head many times. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

New research suggests that a brain protein that has changed form may be the cause of brain disorders -- including Alzheimer's Disease. Researchers say they have developed a treatment that may cause the protein to return to its original form, preventing the disease from developing or reversing the effects of the damage in people who already suffer from Alzheimer's.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, found that the shape of the protein -- which is called "tau" -- is changed by severe injuries to the brain. The scientists say when people are hit in the head many times, they develop a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

CTE develops in soldiers with head injuries. People who play American football also suffer from CTE after being hit in the head many times. The memory, judgment and ability to function are affected in people with CTE.

Alvaro Pascual-Leone is a neurologist -- a brain scientist. He was one of the researchers who discovered the effect of brain injuries on the "tau" protein.

"We know that the tau plays a key role in Alzheimer's disease. And so it is possible that also there, in the absence of traumatic brain injury, one might be able to protect the brain from the damage in the progression of the disease."

The researchers recently published an article about their findings in the journal Nature. Mr. Pascual-Leone and his colleagues reported that they had developed a treatment that returns the damaged tau to its original, undamaged form. He says it might be possible to use the treatment to stop the development of Alzheimer's Disease. And he suggests it could also slow the loss of brain function in people who already have the disease.

"If we were able to slow down the progression or to modify the course of the disease, it would have a big impact on the well-being of the patients and their families."

Scientists discovered the tau in mice that suffered brain injuries began changing form in as little as 12 hours after the mice were hit in the head.

Researchers hope to develop a blood test or use machines that can see into the brain to help them identify changed tau. Early identification of the problem in people with brain injury could help doctors treat them quickly and stop the tau from changing.

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Health Correspondent Jessica Berman reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Words in This Story

form - n. the shape of something

reverse - v. to cause (something, such as a process) to stop or return to an earlier state

function - n. the special purpose or activity for which a thing exists or is used

key - adj. extremely important

absence - n. a state or condition in which something expected, wanted or looked for is not present or does not exist; a state or condition in which something is absent

traumatic - adj. related to or caused by a severe injury to the body

progression - n. the process of developing over a period of time

modify - v. to change the appearance, direction or progression of something

impact - n. an influence or effect

How are people with Alzheimer's disease cared for in your country? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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