Alzheimer's may develop in hours, study shows

Changes to the brain that eventually result in Alzheimer's disease can occur far more quickly than previously thought – perhaps even over the course of a few hours, a study has claimed.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and a growing number of people are developing it as they survive well into their seventies and eighties.

It is known that the brains of Alzheimer's patients become entangled with filaments of protein which build up as "plaques". But until now it has not been possible to observe this deterioration in "real time" as it occurs within a living brain. Scientists have now developed a laser microscope that can peer into the brain as it becomes progressively diseased with the build-up of the plaques.

Bradley Hyman, director of the Alzheimer's unit at the Mass General Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease in Boston, who led the study published in Nature, said: "Understanding the rules that govern plaque formation may lead us to ideas about how to intervene in the process."

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