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Today, 1st of September marks the beginning of World Alzheimer’s Month, a campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma around this devastating condition. Currently 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK and by 2021, over one million people will suffer from dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the single most common cause of dementia, accounting for over 60% of all dementia cases in the UK.
Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal age-related neurodegenerative disorder meaning that it becomes more problematic as time goes on. The symptoms are caused by plaques made up of dense tangles of proteins, which clog up and kill cells, and spread throughout the brain. The death of brain cells results in cognitive decline, memory loss and psychosis. Understanding how these tangles form is crucial, and is a primary aim for Alzheimer’s research. Despite its prevalence within the UK and across the world, the cause of the condition is still unknown.
At present, there is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease, culminating in diagnoses happening by a process of elimination, ruling out other possible causes of Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are drugs that can temporarily relieve symptoms, however these typically only stabilise the condition for a temporary period.
Scientists have used Diamond Light Source in order to carry out wide-ranging research into Alzheimer’s disease. Working with the incredibly bright light generated, the atomic structure and the behaviour of the proteins, which make up the tangled plaques responsible for killing brain cells, have been investigated. In the most recent study at Diamond, researchers have determined the mechanism of a key enzyme associated with Alzheimer’s.
As the cause of Alzheimer’s is undetermined, huge research efforts have been channelled into its triggers. It has been shown that environmental and lifestyle factors play an important part in the risk of a person developing the disease. Alzheimer’s Research UK advise to maintain a healthy lifestyle for both your body and brain.
While scientists throughout the globe continue to investigate more about this disease at every level, there are positive steps we can take to minimise our risks by keeping fit and eating well. Hopefully, in the near future, with our every increasing knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease the number of dementia cases will decrease and fewer people will be affected by this destructive and cruel disease.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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