Sep.4 - Researchers at the University of Queensland and Harvard University have discovered a link between Alzheimer's disease and the length of the mitochondria inside brain cells. The discovery is the latest in a years-long study aimed at finding treatments for the disease that affects millions of people - and their loved ones - around the world. Rob Muir has more.
Scientists know that neurons in the brains of dementia patients contain abnormally high amounts of two proteins, tau and beta ameloid. Professor Jurgen Goetz of the Queensland Brain Institute says new research suggests those proteins cause damage to mitochondria in the brain cells of people with Alzheimer's. Mitochondria provide all cells with energy but in the brain cells of Alzheimers patients they are much longer than in healthy brains. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR JURGEN GOETZ, QUEENSLAND BRAIN INSTITUTE, SAYING: "Having elongated mitochondria also has functional consequences, so it causes the cell to die faster," he said. Seen under a microscope surrounding a brain cell nucleus, the enlarged mitochondria move more slowly than normal. They are starving the cell of energy, a discovery fellow researcher, Professor Perry Bartlett is significant. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR BARRY BARTLETT, QUEENSLAND BRAIN INSTITUTE, SAYING: "We're finally getting down to the very fine detail of what happens inside the cell." And by shortening the mitochondria in the lab, the researchers found that they could restore them to normal. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR JURGEN GOETZ, QUEENSLAND BRAIN INSTITUTE, SAYING: " By changing their size back to normal it's possible to restore their function." In Australia, more than a quarter of a million people have Alzheimers. Globally, the number is an estimated 36 million. Goetz says this latest line of research provides new targets for therapeutic intervention and new hope for tackling the disease.