Already, LoPachin's group has developed just such a compound that, in Petri dishes at least, sops up type-2 alkenes and protects nerves from harm.
"If you talk to someone else, they may tell you I'm nuts," said LoPachin, of the Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York. "We know that humans are pervasively exposed to type-2 alkenes, but nobody has ever considered the possibility that type-2 alkenes in the environment might be involved in Alzheimer's. It's a new theory of Alzheimer's."
Alzheimer's is a multi-faceted disease and efforts to understand it have followed a variety of paths. One line of research focuses on the endings of nerve cells in the brain, which degenerate as the disease progresses.
When that happens, communication among nuerons breaks down, leading to confusion, forgetfulness and other hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer's.
While scientists disagree about what causes nerve-ending degeneration, studies have clearly shown that the progression of the disease itself produces type-2 alkenes in the brain. Chemicals in this group, such as acrylamide and methylvinyl ketone, also show up in car exhaust, cigarette smoke, industrial settings, even French fries.