Science / Medicine : Alzheimer's and Nasal Nerves

From Times Staff and Wire service reports

People with Alzheimer's disease show abnormal nerve fibers in the nose, a finding that may lead to a diagnostic test and a new avenue of research for finding a treatment, a study suggests. Nasal nerve tissue can be removed under local anesthetic, which may offer a way to study the brain disease early in its course, said researcher Barbara Talamo, director of the neurosciences program at Tufts Medical School in Boston.

That could lead to the first definitive test for diagnosing Alzheimer's in a living patient and allow studies of the disease in living nerve tissue, possibly giving hints for treatment, she said. Alzheimer's experts familiar with the research are skeptical about prospects for a diagnostic test, but they agree that studying the nerve tissue may be useful.

She described the new research in the British journal Nature with colleagues there and scientists from Harvard Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. The new study focused on nerves found at the top of the nose within the inner lining, where they are responsible for detecting odors. The nerves extend threadlike projections into a portion of the brain that is affected by Alzheimer's disease, Talamo said.

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