Controversial theory of Alzheimer's origin funded

January 25, 2008

Dr. Shaohua Xu, Florida Tech associate professor of biological sciences, has an original theory of the origin of Alzheimer’s Disease and has earned a $150,000 grant from Space Florida to test it. The grant was matched with $30,000 from NASA’s Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Health Branch.

He is also the sole medical researcher at the State of Florida’s Space Life Sciences Laboratory at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and the research is being conducted both at the university and KSC.

Xu’s theory, both controversial and praised, involves the start of the disease when molecules of a normal brain cell protein called “tau” do something very abnormal: they join together to form tangled fibers that the cell cannot remove. The fibers accumulate until essential substances cannot move through the cell and the cell dies, creating onset of the disease.

Using atomic force microscopy, Xu has studied for the first time the actual process by which the fibers form. Xu uses purified proteins to synthesize the fibers into their various forms.

“We find that it is a three-step process,” he says. “First, molecules of the tau protein cluster together into spheres, each almost the same size. Next, the spheres join together in linear chains like beads on a string. In the third stage the beads merge together to form a uniform filament identical to those found in the brains of patients with the disease.”

Advocates of Xu’s theory are numerous. Daniel Woodard, KSC physician, was the first medical doctor to review the research. He says, “Shaohua’s theory is revolutionary; his evidence is overwhelming. The medical implications are beyond anything in my experience.”

NASA physician David Tipton, chief of the Aerospace Medicine and Environmental Health Branch at KSC, says, “This could be the most important biomedical discovery ever made at Kennedy Space Center.”

Additionally, Pamela Tronetti, medical director of the Parrish Senior Consultative Center, predicts, “If this theory is correct, it may very well have as great an impact on neurodegenerative disease as the discovery of germs had on infection.”

The more common theory of Alzheimer’s origin is that the filaments form by the addition of individual tau molecules to the tip of the fiber.

“From our own observations, we believe this theory is incorrect,” says Xu. “The process we have observed closely resembles that of colloid formation, mixtures like milk or ink in which tiny particles are suspended in a fluid. Our theory is based on colloid science.”

Xu affirms that if his theory is correct, it may be possible to halt the disease with drugs that hinder the aggregation of the spherical colloidal particles into linear chains. Similar chemicals are already used to stabilize colloidal materials such as paints.

Xu began developing this theory in 1997, when he conducted Mad Cow Disease research at the University of Chicago. The research continues to have applications for Mad Cow Disease as well as Parkinson’s Disease, both of which appear to have very similar mechanisms. Xu will be testing potential drugs that may be able to halt the formation of the filaments.

Source: Florida Institute of Technology

Explore further: Plasmon-powered devices for medicine, security, solar cells

Related Stories

Plasmon-powered devices for medicine, security, solar cells

July 17, 2017
A Rice University professor's method to "upconvert" light could make solar cells more efficient and disease-targeting nanoparticles more effective.

Drug combined with care program better at reducing Alzheimer's symptoms than drug alone

July 16, 2017
Combining a specific care management program with a commonly-prescribed drug for Alzheimer's disease multiplies the medication's ability to improve daily function by about 7.5 times, stalling some of the disease's most damaging ...

How severe, ongoing stress can affect a child's brain

July 12, 2017
A quiet, unsmiling little girl with big brown eyes crawls inside a carpeted cubicle, hugs a stuffed teddy bear tight, and turns her head away from the noisy classroom.

Addiction specialist explains fentanyl threat

June 28, 2017
As the opioid crisis rages across the United States, people suffering from addiction as well as the first responders, doctors, and counselors trying to help them are facing another deadly challenge: fentanyl, a synthetic ...

Cancer hijacks natural cell process to survive

June 26, 2017
Cancer tumours manipulate a natural cell process to promote their survival suggesting that controlling this mechanism could stop progress of the disease, according to new research led by the University of Oxford.

Heart failure is associated with loss of important gut bacteria

July 11, 2017
In the gut of patients with heart failure, important groups of bacteria are found less frequently and the gut flora is not as diverse as in healthy individuals. Data obtained by scientists of the German Centre for Cardiovascular ...

Recommended for you

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.