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Study To Examine Link Between Copper And Alzheimer's

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Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and there is no cure yet for this neurodegenerative disease. Scientists have been studying the disease for many years but are yet to come out with an exact explanation for its cause.

The accumulation of Aß (amyloid ß-peptide) and tau proteins in the brain are considered to be the major pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's. It's long been known that individuals with Alzheimer's have high levels of copper in the amyloid plaques.

Tai-Yen Chen, a chemist at the University of Houston is investigating the link between copper protein molecules in the brain cells and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Copper is essential for the brain to relay signals between the neurons. In a healthy brain, the amount of copper is well regulated.

Copper imbalance has been reported in many neurodegenerative disorders. For example, Menkes disease, a rare, genetic disorder, is characterized by an abnormally low level of copper in the brain while in another genetic disorder Wilson disease, an excessive amount of copper accumulates in the body.

Very little is known about how the copper protein and other metalloproteins are individually regulated or how they interact with each other in the living cells. Tai-Yen Chen's research will focus on how cells regulate or manipulate the copper inside them to maintain the optimum copper level by examining individual neuron and liver cells.

"If we can figure out how copper regulation is different between normal and diseased cells, it will shed light on understanding the pathology of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases," Chen said.

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