How India is about to make a major breakthrough in Alzheimer's

Research work being carried out at National Brain Research Centre is creating ripples in the scientific world.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  2-minute read |   01-07-2015
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The brain-shaped building of the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) at Manesar is hardly visible from the Delhi-Jaipur National Highway, but research work being carried out here is creating ripples in the scientific world. Given the vast array of health problems we have, diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's may not figure high in our health priorities yet, but the number of Indians living with such ailments is rising steadily as life expectancy goes up.

While a cure for dementias is still the holy grail of scientific research, scientists feel that early detection could help in better management of these disorders.

"Early symptoms of Alzheimer's often go undiagnosed due to poor health literacy, and they are often taken to be indicative of normal aging," says Pravat K Mandal, professor of neuroimaging at NBRC. By the time symptoms appear, the disease would have already progressed. Mandal wants to change this and explore possibilities of early diagnosis of dementia. After nearly a decade of research, he is now close to an early diagnostic test for Alzheimer's. He has zeroed in on a brain chemical which plays a key role in the onset of Alzheimer's and its predecessor, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

alzheimers_070115021912.png Dr Pravat K Mandal (centre) with his team at National Brain Research Center, Manesar.

By measuring the level of glutathione in specific regions of the brain, Mandal says it is possible to diagnose Alzheimer's early. Lowering levels of this chemical in hippocampus and frontal cortex regions of the brain is an indication of disease onset, Mandal has concluded based on studies done in healthy people as well as those suffering from Alzheimer's and MCI in different age groups.

"In normal functioning of the brain, a lot of radicals are generated and glutathione absorbs them preventing any damage to brain cells. But when glutathione starts depleting, harmful radicals start destroying brain cells. In Alzheimer's, neurons in left hippocampus are damaged while those in frontal cortex are damaged to a lesser extent. By measuring glutathione levels in these two regions, we can decipher status of the disease," explained Mandal. The study of glutathione levels in humans, he says, has been done for the first time in the world. Till now scientists had studied it only in animals. The study has opened up possibilities of an early diagnostic test using MRI as well as developing drugs to treat Alzheimer's in future. "If glutathione level is falling, we can advise people to undertake lifestyle changes and take precautions and thus delay inset of Alzheimer's," Mandal said.

"If someone comes to know that his or her glutathione level is low, the person can exercise, eat healthy food, increase intake of vitamins. Such interventions can ensure that glutathione production cycle in the brain is not affected". The chemical exists elsewhere in the body too but brain glutathione is different and is synthesised in the brain itself. Certain foods like broccoli, mushroom, strawberries, etc can help.

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Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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