Scientists at the University of Melbourne in Australia have been particularly looking at the beta-amyloid protein, suggesting that it may actually be helpful for human health.
The research found that a shorter form of the amyloid that safely binds to copper could protect the brain tissue from damage. In the late 1990s, studies found that high levels of copper existed in the amyloid protein clumps that are believed to cause dementia and Alzheimer's, as while the metal is essential for health, too much of it can produce harmful free radicals. It is now believed that beta-amyloid can bind to this copper and protect the organ.
Dr Simon Drew at the University of Melbourne has suggested that many research teams have simply disregarded this shorter form of beta-amyloid over the last three decades, and that in actual fact, high levels of it have been found in healthy brains.
He said: “The small change in length makes a huge difference to its copper binding properties. We found that the short form of the protein is capable of binding copper at least 1,000 times stronger than the longer forms. It also wraps around the metal in a way that prevents it from producing free radicals."
Currently, therapies that have tried to reduce the amount of beta amyloid in the brain have only shown a modest capability to slow down cognitive decline, and now this research team hopes to identify the short beta form to see how much copper it holds in the brain and how it moves it around.
Researchers are still hesitant to come up with any quick conclusions, with Dr Drew stating that it "could be a Jekyll and Hyde scenario", as the short form may soak up more copper from other places.
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