Teenager’s brain research could one day help Alzheimer’s patients

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Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Is there a link to poor sleep? – A study in the journal Neurology dated September 2017 suggested people who get less REM (dream-stage sleep) may be at higher risk for developing dementia. The study found that people who took longer than the typical 90 minutes to enter REM were more likely to get dementia. 
 
Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Neurodegenerative disease found in 99% of studied brains from deceased NFL players – Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research, according to a study published in July 2017. The neurodegenerative brain disease can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy at present. The study points out potential bias because relatives of these players may have submitted their brains due to clinical symptoms they noticed while they were living. 
In May 2017 the US Food and Drug Administration approved Radicava to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- the first new drug approved to treat the neurodegenerative disease in over two decades. The progressive disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spine, causing the gradual loss of muscle movement, leading to paralysis and death. Tests in Japan found patients experienced a smaller decline in daily functioning than those who received a placebo, with the manufacturer saying the drug slowed the decline of physical function by 33%. <a href="https://cnn.com/2017/05/06/health/new-als-drug/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
FDA approves first new drug for ALS treatment in 22 years – In May 2017 the US Food and Drug Administration approved Radicava to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — the first new drug approved to treat the neurodegenerative disease in over two decades. The progressive disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spine, causing the gradual loss of muscle movement, leading to paralysis and death. Tests in Japan found patients experienced a smaller decline in daily functioning than those who received a placebo, with the manufacturer saying the drug slowed the decline of physical function by 33%.
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Could Alzheimer’s bankrupt Medicare? – A March 2017 report stated that every 66 seconds an American will develop Alzheimer’s disease — and that could reduce to 33 seconds by 2050. The cost for dementia and Alzheimer’s care in the US hit $259 billion in 2017, with Harvard professor Rudy Tanzi arguing the extra stresses of baby boomers developing Alzheimer’s could “single-handedly collapse Medicare/Medicaid.”
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A less painful way to diagnose Parkinsons’s disease? – 1% of 60-year-olds have Parkinson’s, rising to 4% by the age of 80, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traditionally a painful spinal tap was required to differentiate Parkinson’s from other similar diseases (an atypical parkinsonism disorder). But a new study was reported in February 2017 to have found a way to distinguish Parkinson’s via a blood test.
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
An Alzheimer’s drug by 2025? – In December 2016, experts said they still hold out hope for a drug to combat the disease by 2025 — most likely a pilot version that will need to be upgraded. The goal was first outlined at a G8 dementia summit in 2013. CNN profiled a number of studies to tackle the diseases from different angles.
In February 2016 CNN profiled the Gyroglove, hardware proposed as a drug-free alternative to Parkinson's tremors. Treatments for the disease become less effective over time, and there is no known cure. The GyroGlove uses a disk mounted in the back of the hand which spins at around 20,000rpm, which steadies motion. <a href="https://cnn.com/2016/02/16/health/gyroglove-parkinsons-tremors-feat/"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A way to control Parkinson’s beyond drugs? – In February 2016 CNN profiled the Gyroglove, hardware proposed as a drug-free alternative to Parkinson’s tremors. Treatments for the disease become less effective over time, and there is no known cure. The GyroGlove uses a disk mounted in the back of the hand which spins at around 20,000rpm, which steadies motion.
College freshman Indrani Das hit headlines in 2017 for her research into brain cells and preventing the damaging side effects that occur when the brain heals. For people with brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, her findings could one day help them live a better life.<br /><strong><em><br />Scroll through to discover more of CNN's coverage of neurodegenerative disease research.</strong></em>

 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
College freshman Indrani Das hit headlines in 2017 for her research into brain cells and preventing the damaging side effects that occur when the brain heals. For people with brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, her findings could one day help them live a better life.
A study published February 2018 stated that walking while counting backwards was an accurate way to differentiate between idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (a condition that affects elderly mobility, which may sometimes be reversed with early treatment) from a form of dementia called progressive supranuclear palsy. The two are often confused by doctors, but a pressure-sensitive carpet and detailed study of a patient's gait demonstrated key differences between the two conditions. <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/21/health/walk-test-for-dementia-study/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A simple walking test to diagnose form of dementia – A study published February 2018 stated that walking while counting backwards was an accurate way to differentiate between idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (a condition that affects elderly mobility, which may sometimes be reversed with early treatment) from a form of dementia called progressive supranuclear palsy. The two are often confused by doctors, but a pressure-sensitive carpet and detailed study of a patient’s gait demonstrated key differences between the two conditions.
A February 2018 study looked at over one million adults diagnosed with dementia released from French hospitals between 2008 and 2013. It found a diagnosis of alcohol-use disorders ("the chronic harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence") among 16.5% of male subjects and 4% of female subjects with dementia -- more than twice the levels of those without dementia. There was a particularly strong association for those with early-onset dementia. <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/20/health/alcohol-disorder-dementia-risk-study/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Excessive alcohol consumption linked to early-onset dementia – A February 2018 study looked at over one million adults diagnosed with dementia released from French hospitals between 2008 and 2013. It found a diagnosis of alcohol-use disorders (“the chronic harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence”) among 16.5% of male subjects and 4% of female subjects with dementia — more than twice the levels of those without dementia. There was a particularly strong association for those with early-onset dementia.
A study released in <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/01/health/alzheimers-blood-test-study-intl/index.html">February 2018</a> claims scientists in Australia and Japan have developed a new blood test to detect the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The noninvasive test was developed to detect the presence of the toxic protein amyloid beta, known to be present in people affected by the disease, and did so with 90% accuracy, according to the paper. <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/01/health/alzheimers-blood-test-study-intl/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Tests suggests protein linked to Alzheimer’s – A study released in February 2018 claims scientists in Australia and Japan have developed a new blood test to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The noninvasive test was developed to detect the presence of the toxic protein amyloid beta, known to be present in people affected by the disease, and did so with 90% accuracy, according to the paper.
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
New drug trial shows promise in fight against Huntington’s – In December 2017 an experimental drug was shown to reduce levels of the toxic protein that causes Huntington’s disease, an inherited disorder in which mutated proteins damage nerve cells in the brain. The new drug, Ionis-HTTRx, was shown to be safe for humans in a trial of 46 patients and was described as a “potential game-changer.” 
In November 2017, tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates announced a $50 million investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a research partnership focused on what drives brain disease. "Several of the men in my family have this disease (Alzheimer's)," Gates told CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta. "I've seen how tough it is. That's not my sole motivation, but it certainly drew me in." <a href="https://cnn.com/2017/11/13/health/bill-gates-announcement-alzheimers/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Bill Gates steps into the Alzheimer’s fight – In November 2017, tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates announced a $50 million investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a research partnership focused on what drives brain disease. “Several of the men in my family have this disease (Alzheimer’s),” Gates told CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta. “I’ve seen how tough it is. That’s not my sole motivation, but it certainly drew me in.”
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A way to test for Alzheimer’s in living patients? – In September 2017, a study was published outlining an experimental blood test capable of diagnosing Alzheimer’s with 86% sensitivity and specificity. (Sensitivity refers true positives identified by the test, while specificity refers to true negatives.) 
A study in the journal <a href="http://n.neurology.org/content/89/12/1244" target="_blank">Neurology </a>dated September 2017 suggested people who get less REM (dream-stage sleep) may be at higher risk for developing dementia. The study found that people who took longer than the typical 90 minutes to enter REM were more likely to get dementia. <a href="https://cnn.com/2017/07/05/health/alzheimers-sleep-dementia-study/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Is there a link to poor sleep? – A study in the journal Neurology dated September 2017 suggested people who get less REM (dream-stage sleep) may be at higher risk for developing dementia. The study found that people who took longer than the typical 90 minutes to enter REM were more likely to get dementia. 
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players' brains that were donated to scientific research, according to a study published in July 2017. The neurodegenerative brain disease can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy at present. The study points out potential bias because relatives of these players may have submitted their brains due to clinical symptoms they noticed while they were living.<strong> <a href="https://cnn.com/2017/07/25/health/cte-nfl-players-brains-study/index.html"><strong></strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Neurodegenerative disease found in 99% of studied brains from deceased NFL players – Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research, according to a study published in July 2017. The neurodegenerative brain disease can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy at present. The study points out potential bias because relatives of these players may have submitted their brains due to clinical symptoms they noticed while they were living. 
In May 2017 the US Food and Drug Administration approved Radicava to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- the first new drug approved to treat the neurodegenerative disease in over two decades. The progressive disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spine, causing the gradual loss of muscle movement, leading to paralysis and death. Tests in Japan found patients experienced a smaller decline in daily functioning than those who received a placebo, with the manufacturer saying the drug slowed the decline of physical function by 33%. <a href="https://cnn.com/2017/05/06/health/new-als-drug/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
FDA approves first new drug for ALS treatment in 22 years – In May 2017 the US Food and Drug Administration approved Radicava to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — the first new drug approved to treat the neurodegenerative disease in over two decades. The progressive disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spine, causing the gradual loss of muscle movement, leading to paralysis and death. Tests in Japan found patients experienced a smaller decline in daily functioning than those who received a placebo, with the manufacturer saying the drug slowed the decline of physical function by 33%.
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Could Alzheimer’s bankrupt Medicare? – A March 2017 report stated that every 66 seconds an American will develop Alzheimer’s disease — and that could reduce to 33 seconds by 2050. The cost for dementia and Alzheimer’s care in the US hit $259 billion in 2017, with Harvard professor Rudy Tanzi arguing the extra stresses of baby boomers developing Alzheimer’s could “single-handedly collapse Medicare/Medicaid.”
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A less painful way to diagnose Parkinsons’s disease? – 1% of 60-year-olds have Parkinson’s, rising to 4% by the age of 80, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traditionally a painful spinal tap was required to differentiate Parkinson’s from other similar diseases (an atypical parkinsonism disorder). But a new study was reported in February 2017 to have found a way to distinguish Parkinson’s via a blood test.
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
An Alzheimer’s drug by 2025? – In December 2016, experts said they still hold out hope for a drug to combat the disease by 2025 — most likely a pilot version that will need to be upgraded. The goal was first outlined at a G8 dementia summit in 2013. CNN profiled a number of studies to tackle the diseases from different angles.
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A way to control Parkinson’s beyond drugs? – In February 2016 CNN profiled the Gyroglove, hardware proposed as a drug-free alternative to Parkinson’s tremors. Treatments for the disease become less effective over time, and there is no known cure. The GyroGlove uses a disk mounted in the back of the hand which spins at around 20,000rpm, which steadies motion. 
College freshman Indrani Das hit headlines in 2017 for her research into brain cells and preventing the damaging side effects that occur when the brain heals. For people with brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, her findings could one day help them live a better life.<br /><strong><em><br />Scroll through to discover more of CNN's coverage of neurodegenerative disease research.</strong></em>

 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
College freshman Indrani Das hit headlines in 2017 for her research into brain cells and preventing the damaging side effects that occur when the brain heals. For people with brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, her findings could one day help them live a better life.

Scroll through to discover more of CNN’s coverage of neurodegenerative disease research.A study published February 2018 stated that walking while counting backwards was an accurate way to differentiate between idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (a condition that affects elderly mobility, which may sometimes be reversed with early treatment) from a form of dementia called progressive supranuclear palsy. The two are often confused by doctors, but a pressure-sensitive carpet and detailed study of a patient's gait demonstrated key differences between the two conditions. <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/21/health/walk-test-for-dementia-study/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>

 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A simple walking test to diagnose form of dementia – A study published February 2018 stated that walking while counting backwards was an accurate way to differentiate between idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (a condition that affects elderly mobility, which may sometimes be reversed with early treatment) from a form of dementia called progressive supranuclear palsy. The two are often confused by doctors, but a pressure-sensitive carpet and detailed study of a patient’s gait demonstrated key differences between the two conditions. 
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Excessive alcohol consumption linked to early-onset dementia – A February 2018 study looked at over one million adults diagnosed with dementia released from French hospitals between 2008 and 2013. It found a diagnosis of alcohol-use disorders (“the chronic harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence”) among 16.5% of male subjects and 4% of female subjects with dementia — more than twice the levels of those without dementia. There was a particularly strong association for those with early-onset dementia.
A study released in <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/01/health/alzheimers-blood-test-study-intl/index.html">February 2018</a> claims scientists in Australia and Japan have developed a new blood test to detect the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The noninvasive test was developed to detect the presence of the toxic protein amyloid beta, known to be present in people affected by the disease, and did so with 90% accuracy, according to the paper. <a href="https://cnn.com/2018/02/01/health/alzheimers-blood-test-study-intl/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>

 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Tests suggests protein linked to Alzheimer’s – A study released in February 2018 claims scientists in Australia and Japan have developed a new blood test to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The noninvasive test was developed to detect the presence of the toxic protein amyloid beta, known to be present in people affected by the disease, and did so with 90% accuracy, according to the paper.
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
New drug trial shows promise in fight against Huntington’s – In December 2017 an experimental drug was shown to reduce levels of the toxic protein that causes Huntington’s disease, an inherited disorder in which mutated proteins damage nerve cells in the brain. The new drug, Ionis-HTTRx, was shown to be safe for humans in a trial of 46 patients and was described as a “potential game-changer.” 
In November 2017, tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates announced a $50 million investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a research partnership focused on what drives brain disease. "Several of the men in my family have this disease (Alzheimer's)," Gates told CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta. "I've seen how tough it is. That's not my sole motivation, but it certainly drew me in." <a href="https://cnn.com/2017/11/13/health/bill-gates-announcement-alzheimers/index.html"><strong>Read more</a></strong>

 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
Bill Gates steps into the Alzheimer’s fight – In November 2017, tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates announced a $50 million investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a research partnership focused on what drives brain disease. “Several of the men in my family have this disease (Alzheimer’s),” Gates told CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta. “I’ve seen how tough it is. That’s not my sole motivation, but it certainly drew me in.”
 
Photos: Neurodegenerative diseases: The latest stories from CNN
A way to test for Alzheimer’s in living patients? – In September 2017, a study was published outlining an experimental blood test capable of diagnosing Alzheimer’s with 86% sensitivity and specificity. (Sensitivity refers true positives identified by the test, while specificity refers to true negatives.
 

(CNN)When Indrani Das needed motivation, she left the lab. The 2017 winner of the Regeneron Science Talent Search — one of the United States’ most prestigious science and math competitions — enrolled in her local ambulance corps as an emergency medical technician. She needed to be close to people: the kind of lives she one day hopes to improve.

“It was this thought that there could be a person at the end of this experiment … that drove me to continue,” she said. Answering 911 calls helped with that.
Das has made headlines for engineering a new way to treat brain injuries and neurological conditions — essentially finding a method to aid brain neuron survival. The science is complex, but the potential benefits are easy to translate: a better quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
With 47 million people with Alzheimer’s alone worldwide, that’s a lot of lives.

Repairing the brain

Das was educated at the Bergen County Academy for Medical Science Technology, a branch of one of New Jersey’s top public high schools. She describes a government-funded operation that allowed her and her cohort to “push ourselves to our limits” by conducting their own research projects.
For the curious teen, that meant researching medical conditions considered incurable or irreversible. The brain became a focus. “Neurodegenerative diseases ruin a person’s quality of life,” she explains; “they take away from (a person’s) basic humanity.
“It was that impact I wanted to understand and to study and to try and repair.”
With support from her parents and biology teacher-cum-mentor Donna Leonardi, Das embarked on her research. She began by growing and manipulating cell cultures, learning how they lived and died.
Teenager pioneers method to save brain neurons
 
Teenager pioneers method to save brain neurons 02:46
“I started working with these supporting brain cells called astrocytes (nerve cells that perform multiple functions in the brain, including post-traumatic repair and scarring.),” she says. “I managed to mimic an injury condition by giving them this chemical, which then made (the astrocytes) grow these spikes and start dumping toxic chemicals.”
Das observed that in a brain injury situation, nerve molecules called glutamate would stop being taken up by astrocytes and would instead pile up around them and nearby neurons. The build-up of glutamate over-stimulates neurons, she says, “causing them to malfunction and die.”
To stop this required some bioengineering. Das used specially engineered microRNA to make the “injured” astrocytes recycle glutamate again. The neurons stopped dying as a result.
Das’ research won her Regeneron’s $250,000 top prize, an award that opens doors for young scientists and counts 13 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Now a college freshman, she’s researching at the Stevens Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, studying microglia, another type of supporting brain cell.
“I found mentors here and friends here,” she says. “I really hope to be able to contribute to them as much as they have to me.”
She also hopes her work will prompt further research in brain self-healing and supporting cells, not just neurons. “By attacking the problem from more angles … by looking at factors around these dying cells, we’ll have a better chance at re-establishing a patient’s quality of life.
“I was determined to work as long and hard as it takes to find a way to save these brain cells in disease,” Das says, reflecting on her breakthrough. “I still am.”

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