A team of scientists have created the first ever computer model of Alzheimer’s proteins to see the path of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases spreading through the brain.
The computer model of Alzheimer’s also simulates Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The researchers believe that the technique is general enough to simulate other brain disorders which involve misshapen proteins. One example of another such brain disorder is chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
How to create a computer model of Alzheimer’s
Each of the three diseases involve patterns of defective proteins which build up in the brain. To observe how the defective proteins spread in the brain over time, the researchers looked at brain slices of people who died after developing one of the three diseases. These brain slices had been stained so that the researchers could see the presence of the defective proteins.
Ellen Kuhl, a Stanford mechanical engineer, described the computer simulation in an article in Physical Review Letters co-authored with Johannes Weickenmeier from the Stevens Institute of Technology and Alain Goriely from Oxford University. Kuhl said: “Imagine a domino effect…what our model does is connect the dots between the static data points, mathematically, to show disease progression in unprecedented detail.”
The team of researchers who created the computer model of Alzheimer’s do not know for sure how the defective proteins affects other proteins to spread through the brain, but they have three theories on why this might be. The model, however, can be used to predict the path of the disease regardless of which is the correct theory.