A protein called amyloid is known for building up excessively in the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease, creating "brain plaque" that surrounds neurons, cutting them off from other cells and depriving them of the nutrients they need to survive. Now, scientists have found evidence that this protein already exists in the brains of people as young as 20 years old, setting the stage for problems later. 

Professor Changiz Geula of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and his colleagues, examined the brain tissue of 48 deceased subjects ranging from 20 to 99 years old. Of these subjects, 29 had no mental health issues and 21, all of whom were between 60 and 95 years old, were being treated for Alzheimer's at the time of their death.

The researchers found that they could already see signs of toxic amyloid buildup in the younger patients without Alzheimer's, suggesting that a technique for removing amyloid early in life might be able to stem the onset of Alzheimer's later. No such techniques currently exist, but they are being developed, and these findings demonstrate that they should not just be used in patients who have already developed the disorder.

"One thing this means is that the resource, the machinery, for making the clumps of plaque we see among Alzheimer's patients is already available in young individuals. The implication appears to be that if we want to prevent these clumps from forming when a person becomes old, we may need to intervene much earlier than we have thought, to try and get rid of amyloid very early in life," Geula said in a statement.

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