Sea squirts are marine organisms that live on underwater structures for their entire lives and feed on small plants. They are characterized by an outer hard tunic and a soft body on the inside. They can be useful in studying Alzheimer’s disease and ultimately finding an effective cure for this disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a serious and progressive cognitive disorder that starts with basic forgetfulness and then progresses towards serious brain impairment in the form of changes in cognitive abilities and memory loss. Cognitive abilities refer to a number of important brain based behaviors like abstract reasoning, perception, learning etc.
The response to the question “Are Sea Squirts the Answer to Alzheimer’s disease?” lies in the fact that sea squirts, especially in their immature tadpole forms, share about 80% of their genes with humans. This fact can be favorable used to further the research work required for studying the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.
This gene resemblance can prove to be highly beneficial in studying Alzheimer’s disease effectively. These marine organisms can serve as successful model organisms that can be used for understanding the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and screening the drugs useful for curing this disease.
In addition to this, Sea squirts are relatively inexpensive to house as compared to the small animals that are currently being used for the studies.
The Mechanism behind the Use of Sea Squirts
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the formation and accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that cause degeneration of the nerve cells present on the brain. Amyloids are protein fragments that are normally produced by the brain but are eventually broken down and removed.
But, in case of hereditary Alzheimer’s disease these protein fragments tend to get accumulated leading to the formation of hard and insoluble plaques. So, for studying and conducting tests for Alzheimer’s disease, certain model organisms are required so that they can be given the mutant protein Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) or the development of plaques and tangles in the brain.
When these mutant proteins were introduced in sea squirts, it was observed that unlike other small animals that developed brain plaques after a long period of time, sea squirts developed these plaques very quickly, within a day.
Moreover, an experimental drug for curing Alzheimer’s disease showed positive results in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in sea squirts. Earlier, this drug had not been effective on other small animals like mice. However, in case of sea squirts, this anti plaque forming drug not only helped in healing the plaques but also in getting rid of the behavioral defects associated with Alzheimer’s disease.