For this potential breakthrough in the prevention and treatment of a disease that the Alzheimer's Association says five million Americans now have, we have mice to thank.
A research team recently conducted a study of human and rodent subjects with Alzheimer's; the results helped the researchers identify the specific area of the hippocampus affected by Abeta. In order to study the progression of a disease that typically takes many decades to manifest in people, mice have been genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's over the course of a few months. Dementia in mice is not simply a matter of forgetting how to get through the maze to the cheese. Dr. Scott Small of the Columbia University Medical Center, one of the researchers involved in the study, told Miller-McCune.com that the mice "partially model Alzheimer's disease by developing hippocampal-dependent memory loss, neuronal ‘cell sickness,' and increase in the neurotoxin Abeta."
In order to get images of mice brains, a special MRI device has been developed. Small explained, "My lab has been striving to optimize or develop functional MRI techniques that have cross-species imaging capabilities. The magnet we used [in the recent study] is specifically for mice." Dr. Small didn't mention whether an open-scan machine was on the horizon for mice who suffer from claustrophobia, but perhaps that's not a pressing issue for animals whose wild cousins live in holes in the wall.