Degenerative disorders — Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, among others — affect more than 45 million people worldwide. These diseases often strike older adults and are characterized by progressive deterioration of nerve cells, eventually leading to cell death. Through human and animal studies researchers are developing new and compelling ideas about the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders, with the goal of slowing or stopping their progression.
Solving the mystery of what causes each degenerative disorder is important in identifying treatments, and perhaps one day, cures. Scientists have identified key similarities among degenerative disorders thanks, in part, to advances in genetics, biochemistry, cell biology, and imaging technology. These efforts revealed the presence of abnormal proteins in many degenerative diseases, and brought to light new questions about how these proteins interfere with normal cellular functions and spread throughout the brain.