This is the first time that Alzheimer’s disease has been detected in wild animals.
Alzheimer’s is one of the more devastating effects of aging. It’s believed that nearly 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s worldwide in 2017, with this number is expected to rise to 131.5 million by 2050. People with the disease exhibit symptoms such as memory loss, poor judgement, noticeable personality changes, and cognitive difficulties that vary in severity depending on how bad the disease has gotten. As of the moment, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, though there are medications that can help manage the symptoms.
As far as we know, the disease is nearly unique to humans. However, a new study has found that we may share this unfortunate condition with one other species--dolphins. Researchers were interested in finding out whether dementia could be possible in species that live long past their offspring-bearing years.
We have more in common with dolphins than we previously thought.
Among the things that humans and dolphins have in common is longevity. Both species can live long after they’ve birthed their last offspring, which is unusual in the animal world. The discovery that dolphins may also help researchers understand Alzheimer’s better, and, hopefully, find a cure.
According to a team of researchers, the brains of dolphins that had beached on a Spanish coast and died as a result exhibited signs of Alzheimer’s. Researchers found abnormal fragments of two proteins called beta amyloid and tau. Each was found in plaques and tangles, which are known as telltale signs of Alzheimer’s. These proteins are what cause the Alzheimer’s symptoms mentioned above--memory loss and cognitive difficulties, as well as problems with communication.
So is the ability to live a longer lifespan to blame for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? There may be some sort of connection, according to the researchers. “We think that in humans, the insulin signalling has evolved to work in a way similar to that artificially produced by giving a mouse very few calories,” said Simon Lovestone, one of the researchers.
“That has the effect of prolonging lifespan beyond the fertile years, but it also leaves us open to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease,” Lovestone continues. Previous work shows that insulin resistance predicts the development of Alzheimer’s disease in people, and people with diabetes are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.”
Currently, scientists are using mice to study the nature of Alzheimer’s in humans. However, mice haven’t proven to be good study models in this case. Dolphins might work better, and they can help lead to better results. The study may also help other researchers in testing new drugs for Alzheimer’s.
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