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Brain's 'garbage truck' may hold key to treating Alzheimer's

New York, June 29, 2013, (PTI) 22:04 IST
File Photo.
Scientists have found that a newly discovered system by which the brain removes waste can act as a potentially powerful new tool to treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York believe that some of the neurological disorders may arise when the system is not doing its job properly.

"Essentially all neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products," said Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine and author of the article in journal Science.

"Understanding and ultimately discovering how to modulate the brain's system for removing toxic waste could point to new ways to treat these diseases," Nedergaard said.

The complex network of waste removal, which researchers have dubbed the glymphatic system, was first disclosed by URMC scientists last August in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

While the discovery of the glymphatic system solved a mystery that had long baffled the scientific community, understanding how the brain removes waste – both effectively and what happens when this system breaks down – has significant implications for the treatment of neurological disorders.

Understanding what role the glymphatic system plays in the brain's inability to break down and remove beta amyloid could point the way to new treatments, researchers said.
Specifically, it can be investigated whether certain key 'players' in the glymphatic system, such as astrocytes, can be manipulated to ramp up the removal of waste.

"The idea that 'dirty brain' diseases like Alzheimer may result from a slowing down of the glymphatic system as we age is a completely new way to think about neurological disorders," said Nedergaard.

"It also presents us with a new set of targets to potentially increase the efficiency of glymphatic clearance and, ultimately, change the course of these conditions," he said.

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