May 262011
PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

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The search for ways to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease has been stymied in part by difficulties in reliably delivering therapeutics into the brain to prevent proteins there from depositing fibrous plaques that damage synapses and ultimately wreck one’s cognitive abilities.

Researchers have experimented with antibodies, peptides and even nanoparticles to find some way of effectively preventing plaque formation but these efforts have yet to yield an anti-Alzheimer’s drug.

Now, two papers by researchers at pharmaceuticals giant Genentech, based in South San Francisco, Calif., describe the development of a new antibody that has shown promise in animal studies by blocking the beta-secretase 1 (BACE1) enzyme that contributes to the buildup of Alzheimer’s-inducing brain plaque. The results are detailed in the May 25 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Antibodies have proved to have two major weaknesses in fighting Alzheimer’s—they have difficulty penetrating the blood–brain barrier and then, even if successful there, they fail to reach their protein targets. Genentech’s work provides a proof-of-principle that both of these limitations potentially can be overcome, Steven Paul, a Cornell University Weill Medical College professor of neuroscience and psychiatry, wrote in a commentary in the same journal accompanying the research.

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