On the Cutting Edge: Treatments for some of the most common and deadly diseases


Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, a degenerative disease that results in a gradual decrease in a person’s ability to think and communicate. Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, the disease is characterised by the loss of neurons in the brain. The proteins amyloid and tau cause plaques and tangles to form around the brain’s cells, ultimately resulting in cell death.

The first signs of the disease are memory less and behavioral changes; over time, symptoms worsen, with patients suffering severe mental decline and forgetfulness.

Treatments for AD

The treatments currently available to sufferers of AD primarily focus on slowing down the rate of memory less, a problematic symptom of the disease. Scientists have yet to develop a treatment than can prevent cell death. One such treatment offers patients a boost of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is usually produced by the brain’s cells. Acetylcholine is usually produced by the brain’s cells, but is in short supply in the brains of AD patients due to the rate of cell death.


Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted and the cells in the brain are starved of oxygen. Strokes are usually the result of a blockage in one of the vessels leading to the brain. The symptoms of stroke and associated cell death are severe and progress quickly; victims soon show signs of disrupted speech, impaired movement, and memory loss.

Treatments for Stroke

Stroke can be fatal; however, in some cases, patients are able to recover quickly and regain normality. Treatments endeavour to reduce the severity of symptoms, with physiotherapy and speech therapy often prescribed to help patients maintain their independence. Recent research has found that some adult brain cells are able to regenerate somewhat after damage has occurred, potentially explaining why some people are able to recover after stroke.


ALS is a form of motor neuron disease. It affects the body’s ability to move by attacking the nerves which connect the spinal cord to the muscles. Early symptoms of the disease including slurred speech and stumbling. Over time, nerves gradually disappear, resulting in a compete loss of bodily control. The disease is always fatal.


Scientist aren’t yet able to say why the disease develops, but some believe it may be the result of a virus in the central nervous system. In a small number of cases, a potential genetic link has been found. Researchers are currently endeavouring to find a means of replacing the lost motor neurons.

Future treatments

It is hoped that a cure for disease of the nervous system will eventually be found. Advances in imaging technology allow scientists to view cells in clear detail. Image analysis software gives cell biologists a unique opportunity to view and compare healthy and diseased brain cells in detail to better understanding how brain cells work and to observe changes. The more knowledge scientists have about cell biology, the more likely they are to find a cure.