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Published on: June 4, 2012
by Carly Q. Romalino for the Gloucester County Times:
Dr. Robert Nagele, a long-time Alzheimer’s disease researcher, has been working to unlock the mystery of the neurodegenerative disease for a decade.
But since his team of South Jersey researchers started uncovering their first batch of big Alzheimer’s disease secrets more than five years ago, it’s been full speed ahead for the group based at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Stratford campus.
Last year, the group — headed by Nagele, a Washington Township native — unveiled findings at UMDNL’s Research Day that linked cardiovascular health to Alzheimer’s.
Since August, the South Jersey team has announced that it developed a one-drop blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases more than a decade before the onset of symptoms.
Now, Nagele’s researchers have published another study that could lead pharmaceutical companies to develop therapies to combat the now-untreatable diseases.
“It’s getting pretty exciting,” said Nagele, who has been working alongside UMDNJ medical and master’s students, including his son, Eric, and Nimish Acharya, who is the lead author of the new study.
Nagele’s team already knew that autoantibodies exist in every person, and the type of autoantibody present in the blood can tip researchers off to what type of auto-immune disease exists in the body.
Those findings lead to the development of a blood test that detects the diseases.
But the latest study revealed that cells modify themselves when they are under stress. The very slight change in proteins eventually causes the cells to pop and release the protein in the blood.
Once it’s in the blood, the immune system thinks the proteins are foreign and begin to produce antibodies to destroy the aliens.
The new development fits into the group’s previous discovery that the blood-brain barrier has a lot to do with a neurodegenerative disease’s attack on the brain. Earlier research found that strong blood vessels — strengthened through good cardiovascular health — kept blood from leaking into the brain.
“When the blood-brain barrier breaks down, antibodies in your blood get into your brain and bind to all things in your brain,” Nagele said.
The research — a completely new concept — could lead pharmaceutical companies to develop treatments that rebuild the blood-brain barrier to keep the lethal mix in the blood from entering and destroying the brain and causing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.
“Our discovery is elevating the importance of the blood-brain barrier for protection from getting the diseases,” Nagele said. “We believe it’s the blood-brain barrier that really takes the premiere seat as the main cause of neurodegenerative diseases … if we can come up with a therapy that keeps your blood-brain barrier intact, something that can stop the leak and stop the damage, that should be the magic bullet.”
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