Alzheimer’s disease is still an incurable disease, even though billions of dollars and decades of research has been poured into it. There is nothing to be done that can reverse the damage done by the disease. So what is the problem? Are scientists missing something big here?
Medical research today focuses on cities such as NYC etc. Dr. Trumble, a researcher with the Tsimane Health and Life History Project, wondered how Alzheimer’s disease affected people before mass industrialization. To study this, Dr. Trumble travels to study the Tsimane people. The Tsimane people live like our ancestors did. They hunt and forage in the wilderness without technology. The Tsimane are a special group of people; they have high mortality rates as infants but equalize to normal rates as adults. They also have the cleanest arteries out of any population that has been studied.
Closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease is the ApoE4 gene. Only a quarter of people have one copy of the gene. Americans that possess two copies of this gene are 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease during their later life. In a study, Dr. Trumble found out that Tsimane people who had one copy of this gene performed better than those who didn’t in cognitive tests. These tests had older people of the group complete puzzles. The data was compiled over a 13 year period and analyzed. DNA analysis showed that thousands of years ago, the ApoE4 gene was ubiquitous in humans. Dr. Trumble hypothesized that this gene perhaps provided advantages for defending the brain in ancient times. Because the Tsimane people were more similar to ancient humans than us, maybe they sill retained the advantages of ApoE4 genes.
In another study, Dr. Trumble discovered that Tsimane people with infections and also at least one copy of the ApoE4 gene were able to maintain mental fitness. Ones with the gene but did not have infections had lower mental fitness.
Quoted from Dr. Trumble, “Humans co-evolved with a number of different parasites, but today, in our sedentary city life, we’ve removed those parasites from the mix,” Dr. Trumble thinks that the ApoE4 gene provided advantages in the presence of infections, but because of how protected we are, the gene has turned into a liability.
I think the studies and experiments Dr. Trumble performed are amazing. It blows my mind that one gene can be so different in people who live in different “worlds.” Perhaps the Tsimane people hold the key to curing Alzheimer’s disease.One key point not mentioned in the article is did the Tsimane elders who completed the puzzles have infections too? The study shows that elders with the gene had better performances, but the presence of infections is not mentioned. This is important, because in the next study Dr. Trumble states that having the ApoE4 gene combined with infections show better mental health when compared to just having the ApoE4 gene. I also think this study can be used to help Cognitive Dysfunction. Both disease have changes in behavior that are similar. Although maybe unethical in some people’s minds, dogs are being used as models to study disease in humans more and more too.