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Nobel Prize winner says study shows chance Alzheimer’s patients could recover ‘lost’ memories

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Sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease may not have “lost” their memories, but could simply have difficulty accessing them, say researchers, who Wednesday unveiled a possible treatment that could one day offer a cure to the ravages of dementia.

Nobel Prize-winner Susumu Tonegawa said studies on mice showed that by stimulating specific areas of the brain with blue light, scientists could make the creatures recall thoughts that were otherwise unavailable to them.

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The results offer some of the first evidence that Alzheimer’s disease does not destroy specific memories, but rather makes them inaccessible.

“As humans and mice tend to have a common principle in terms of memory, our findings suggest that Alzheimer’s disease patients, at least in their early stages, may also keep memories in their brains, which means there may be a possibility of a cure,” Tonegawa told AFP.

Tonegawa’s team used mice that had been genetically modified to exhibit symptoms similar to those of humans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease — a degenerative brain condition that affects millions of adults around the world.

The animals were put in a box which had a low level electrical current passing through the floor — giving an unpleasant, but not dangerous, shock to their feet.

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An unaffected mouse that is returned to the same box 24 hours later freezes in fear, anticipating the same nasty sensation.

Mice with Alzheimer’s do not, suggesting they have no recollection of the experience.

But when researchers stimulated targeted areas of the animal’s brains — the “engram cells” associated with memory — using a blue light, they appeared to recall the shock.

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The same result was noted even when placing the creatures in a different box during stimulation, suggesting the memory had been retained and was being reactivated.

– Synaptic connections –

By examining the physical structure of the mice’s brains, researchers noted that those affected with Alzheimer’s-like conditions had fewer “spines” — conduits through which synaptic connections are formed.

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Via repeated light stimulation they were able to increase the number of spines to levels indistinguishable from those in normal mice, resulting in their exhibiting the freezing behaviour seen in the original box.

“The mice’s memories were retrieved through a natural cue,” Tonegawa said, referring to the box that initially triggered the freezing behaviour.

“This means that symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice were cured, at least in their early stages.”

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The research, carried out by the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics, is among the first to prove that recall — rather than memory — is the problem, Japan-based RIKEN said.

“It’s good news for Alzheimer’s disease patients,” centre director Tonegawa, who won the 1987 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, told AFP by telephone from his office in Massachusetts.

The optical stimulation of brain cells — a technique called “optogenetics” — involves inserting a special gene into neurons to make them sensitive to blue light, and then stimulating specific parts of the brain.

Optogenetics has previously been used in psychotherapeutic treatments for mental illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Tonegawa said the research on mice offered hope for a future treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that accounts for about 70 percent of the 4.7 million people around the world suffering from dementia, figures that are expected to increase as developed countries such as Japan grow older.

But he cautioned more work was yet to be done.

“Early-stage Alzheimer’s may be cured in the future should a new technology that meets ethical and safety conditions for treating humans be developed,” he said.

The research is published in the Britain-based science journal Nature.

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Trump is a wannabe dictator in training

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In a view shared by many, it is easy to believe that what Donald Trump really wants is not to be president of the country, but dictator of it.

Indeed, he has suggested how good it might be for him to enjoy a third term, perhaps more, even though the Constitution forcefully forbids it.

In a Father's Day tweet he fantasized over the possibility, suggesting the public might “demand” that he serve a third term. The [good news], he wrote, “is that at the end of six years, after America has been made GREAT again and I leave the beautiful White House  (do you think the people would demand that I stay longer? KEEP AMERICA GREAT)….”

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Two entrepreneurs explain why the health insurance industry is a direct threat to middle-class life

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Among many recent troubling headlines was this one: “Families Go Deep in Debt to Stay in the Middle Class.” That story came on the heels of a report that consumer debt in the United States hit $14 trillion in the first quarter of the year, a level not seen since just before the financial crash of 2008.

To understand how we got here, it’s important to note another finding we feel has been perhaps most damaging to America’s middle class: since 1990, health care costs have risen 276 percent as wages, when adjusting for inflation, have barely grown at all.

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Award-winning broadcaster Cokie Roberts dies at 75

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Veteran broadcaster Cokie Roberts has died at the age of 75 due to complications from breast cancer.

Roberts joined NPR in 1978 before moving to ABC News, and she won three Emmy Awards and was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame and was cited by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting.

"She was a true pioneer for women in journalism," said James Goldston, president of ABC News, "well-regarded for her insightful analysis of politics and policy in Washington, D.C., countless newsmaking interviews, and, notably, her unwavering support for generations of young women — and men — who would follow in her footsteps."

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