Could build-up of urea in brain cause dementia?

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A build-up of urea in the brain could be a major cause of dementia, a new study suggests.

An international team of researchers used both human brains, which had been donated by families for medical research, and the brains of genetically modified sheep to investigate whether Huntington’s disease is directly linked to brain urea levels.

The study suggested that a build-up of urea (a natural chemical produced by the body that is normally cleared away in the urine) in the brain could be involved in the development of the disease. According to Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development, Alzheimer’s Society, this could be because the use of energy is compromised in the brains of people with Huntington’s and urea is produced as the damaged brain tries to find alternative energy sources.

These latest findings build upon earlier research into Alzheimer’s disease and urea, which was published in 2016.
“More research is required to understand if a build-up of urea is the cause, or the result, of brain cells dying so this study doesn’t substantiate the researcher’s claim that urea is a ‘pivotal’ cause of dementia,” said Dr Brown. “Given that there are still so many unknowns about the causes of dementia, research like this that looks outside the box is vital to help us get a full picture of what causes the condition, and ultimately develop new treatments.”