We still don’t know what causes the disease, but there’s new evidence that childhood viruses might play a role
By Katrina Caruso
A team of American scientists announced recently that they’ve discovered that two common viruses seem to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease. So common that about 90% of North Americans have been exposed to them, the viruses seem to interact with cells associated with Alzheimer’s when something wakes them up. While scientists don’t yet know what it is that activates the viruses, the viral connection suggests that we may one day be able to prevent or slow the progress of Alzheimer’s with antiviral drugs.
The study, results of which were published in late June in the journal Neuron, analyzed the brains of more than 900 brains—622 from people with signs of Alzheimer’s and 322 from people with no signs of the disease. The researchers—from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City—were surprised to find that levels of two herpes viruses—HHV-6 and HHV-7—were as much as twice as high in the brains with Alzheimer’s. The two viruses are the cause of roseola, a common childhood condition involving a fever and a rash.
A separate study is already underway that involves giving antiviral drugs to early-stage Alzheimer’s patients with high levels of herpes virus in their brains.
Nearly 750,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, according to the Canadian Alzheimer’s Association. As there’s currently no treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s, any potential breakthrough is good news. Last fall, Bill Gates donated $100 million of his own money to the fight against the disease.