Major Cause of Dementia Discovered in New Study
There is currently no cure for dementia, but an international team of scientists has identified a major cause of the disease that creates hope for an eventual cure. A study lead by Professor Garth Cooper of the University of Manchester showed that a buildup of toxic levels of urea in the brain can cause brain damage and eventually dementia.
The study focused on one of seven types of age-related dementia, Huntington’s disease, showing that Huntington’s disease is directly linked to brain urea levels and metabolic processes. It showed that high urea levels occurred before dementia set in, providing hope that doctors will eventually be able to diagnose and treat dementia well before its onset.
“This study on Huntington’s Disease is the final piece of the jigsaw which leads us to conclude that high brain urea plays a pivotal role in dementia,” Cooper says in a University of Manchester release. “More research, however, is needed to discover the source of the elevated urea in [Huntington’s Disease], particularly concerning the potential involvement of ammonia and a systemic metabolic defect. Urea is most widely known as a compound excreted from the body in urine. In the brain, urea and ammonia are products of the metabolic breakdown of protein.
“Doctors already use medicines to tackle high levels of ammonia in other parts of the body,” Cooper says. “Lactulose, a commonly used laxative, for example, traps ammonia in the gut. So it is conceivable that one day, a commonly used drug may be able to stop dementia from progressing. It might even be shown that treating this metabolic state in the brain may help in the regeneration of tissue, thus giving a tantalizing hint that reversal of dementia may one day be possible.”
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