In the study of Alzheimer's disease, the smallest steps forward have sometimes led to the most exciting breakthroughs.
In the case of a recent study from Novato's Buck Institute, it's a molecular step forward -- specifically, modifying a single amino acid in the brains of lab mice that could prevent the frightening memory loss and dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease.
While several scientists outside the Buck Institute were reluctant to call the study a true breakthrough, the results "are not a trivial step forward," said Stephen Snyder, an Alzheimer's disease specialist with the National Institute on Aging.
"This opens the door on a field of research. What these guys are showing, basically, is a new universe for us to look into more deeply," Snyder said. "We don't know much about the mechanisms. You could fault these people for rushing to print the study without knowing that, but in the Alzheimer's field, we accept a lot of this because these little incremental things could mean a lot."
In the Buck Institute study, a protein was altered in the brains of lab mice. The mice that received the treatment showed all the pathological signs of suffering Alzheimer's disease -- most notably, a buildup of sticky plaque that scientists believe is related to the disease -- but had none of the memory-loss symptoms or brain shrinkage.
It's too soon to say whether the genetic alteration that seems to have worked on mice will also work on humans, but the research shines new light on the progression of Alzheimer's disease, said Dale Bredesen, chief executive of the Buck Institute.
"It gives you a completely different view of a disease you thought you understood. It points us in the direction of a new way to treat it," Bredesen said. "Because you cure the mouse, can you cure the human? Time will tell. But since we do have such a big impact on the mouse, it does lead us to new treatments options."
The next step for scientists is further research on the genetic alteration and, ultimately, drug therapy for humans, Bredesen said. A drug treatment is at least two years away, he said, and on average it takes 14 years for a drug to get FDA approval.
I don't have to tell anyone why this research is a good thing. After all... nobody wants to get Alzheimer.
Eventually, we will all develop Alzheimer provided we live (and keep aging) long enough.
So Alzheimer could be a problem if you have decided that you are going to make use of future rejuvenation technologies so you can live forever.
For the immortalists among us, curing Alzheimer is a must.