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Clue From New Cancer Discovery Brings To Light A Novel Strategy To Solve Alzheimer’s

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We all want to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, and there’s a simple way of achieving this.

All we have to do is become a cancer patient instead! Not much of an option, is it?

Nevertheless, cancer patients really do have lower rates of Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s patients have lower rates of cancer.

What’s going on here? A team of scientists tried to answer this question, and their answer might hold a key to new treatments for both horrible diseases.

The Surprising Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Cancer

Several epidemiological studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have a decreased risk (around 35-61%) of developing cancer compared to individuals without Alzheimer’s disease. 

 Conversely, cancer patients also exhibit a lower risk (around 35-50%) of subsequently developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The reason for this was unknown, but the recent discovery of an anti-cancer “kill code” embedded in every cell came under suspicion. Could a mechanism that protects against cancer become toxic to brain cells?

The Discovery of An Anti-Cancer “Kill Code”

Before 2021, RNA was a term most of us came across only in long-forgotten biology classes, where we learned that it carries instructions from DNA to make proteins. But when COVID vaccines came on the scene we became reacquainted with it as the new mRNA approach to fighting viruses was rolled out.

Scientists are also examining RNA, not only in relation to vaccine development, but also as a new approach to treating Alzheimer’s.

This occurred when Dr. Marcus Peter and his team at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine discovered a novel and potent anti-cancer mechanism embedded in RNA.1 This was an exciting discovery, but since Alzheimer’s patients appear to be safeguarded from cancer, they theorized the mechanism that protects them from cancer might also kill healthy brain cells.

To test this, they carried out a series of experiments on cell lines, mice, and human brains, including the brains of “superagers” - a group of people over the age of 80 who, in their lifetime, had the memories of people thirty years younger.

The results confirmed the scientists’ suspicions. The difference between a healthy and diseased brain revolves around two different types of RNA.

Protective And Toxic RNA

The two types of RNA are long RNAs, which produce proteins, and short RNAs (sRNAs), which don’t code for proteins but still play important roles in many cellular processes, including cell growth, migration, and metabolism.

However, the Northwestern team identified very short sequences found in some of these sRNAs that kill cells by blocking the production of proteins cells need to survive.

These toxic sRNAs are normally inhibited by protective sRNAs that act as guards to prevent them from entering the cellular machinery. But the guards’ numbers decrease with aging and are less able to defend the cell, thus allowing the toxic sRNAs to break through and wreak cellular havoc, killing neurons and contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

In their cellular experiments, adding back protective sRNAs partially saved cells from death induced by amyloid beta, the harmful protein that can be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s. Enhancing the activity of a protein that increases protective sRNAs also partially inhibited cell death and completely blocked DNA damage.

They also found that super-agers have higher amounts of protective sRNA strands in their brain cells.2

A New Approach to Treating Alzheimer’s

Discussing his team’s research Dr. Peter said: “Nobody has ever connected the activities of RNAs to Alzheimer’s. We found that the balance between toxic and protective sRNAs in aging brain cells shifts toward toxic ones.

“Our data provide a new explanation for why, in almost all neurodegenerative diseases, affected individuals have decades of symptom-free life, and then the disease starts to set in gradually as cells lose their protection with age.

“Our data support the idea that stabilizing or increasing the amount of protective short RNAs in the brain could be an entirely new approach to halt or delay Alzheimer’s or neurodegeneration in general.”3

The next step for the research team is to determine the exact contribution of toxic sRNAs to Alzheimer’s and screen for compounds that would selectively increase the level of protective sRNAs or block the action of the toxic ones.

Our Takeaway

This complex relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and cancer warrants further scientific investigation. One day, researchers will no doubt unravel the underlying biology behind these two insidious diseases and develop therapeutic strategies targeting common mechanisms. But what can you do until then?

Science has revealed another common thread in the development of both Alzheimer’s disease and cancer…

We’re talking about inflammation.

The research is clear that chronic inflammation and the changes that it triggers in the body contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. The good news is you can do something about it.

We’ve written extensively on how to live a lifestyle that lowers inflammation and can protect you against both Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. This includes choosing an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Mediterranean diet, participating in regular exercise, using stress management techniques, and establishing a healthy sleep routine to ensure you get enough rest.

This week, examine your daily habits and see where you can improve to give your mind and body the best chance at staying healthy for years to come.

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