The battle to halt Alzheimer's may come down to sugar

Even as researchers become increasingly concerned about finding a drug that can manage or defeat Alzheimer's disease, scientists at Canada's Simon Fraser University bet the answer comes down to sugar.

Rather than reaching for high-sugar foods to protect your brain, however, their discovery here is more elemental. Keep sugar levels stable in the brain protein tau, the scientists believe, and the action could slow Alzheimer's progression, or even prevent the disease from happening. What's more, they've come up with a chemical inhibitor that might prevent depletion of those vital sugar molecules.

Read the latest issue of Nature Chemical Biology to devour details of this. We'll give you the short version here.

But first: Consider that we're years away from seeing if researchers can repeat these promising results in larger animal trials and then in people. Mouse trials can be encouraging but are not always repeatable in humans for all kinds of genetic reasons. At the same time, with all the increasing U.S. and global focus on developing a viable Alzheimer's treatment, the finding remains interesting because it offers a new targeting approach.

Simon Fraser chemistry professor David Vocadlo and 6 other researchers build on earlier research that found tau in brains of patients with Alzheimer's with virtually no sugar attached, and that the naturally occurring O-GlcNAcase enzyme drained the supply. The tau clumps are important because they offer an Alzheimer's warning sign and worsen as the disease does, the researchers explain. And so, Vocadlo's team created a chemical compound called Thiamet-G and tested it in mice, having them drink it daily in water. They found that mice drinking the special concoction blocked the enzyme from taking vital tau sugar away, developed less tau clumps than their brethren who didn't ingest the compound, and kept their brains in healthier shape.

- here's the release
- read the journal abstract