Greek goddess Klotho, spinning thread of life. Photo from Wikipedia

Bob Brehl: Is Klotho the key to solving Alzheimer’s?

  • June 27, 2019

Invited to the Ideacity conference in June, I was listening to an eclectic string of interesting speakers, from a British historian describing what Jesus really looked like to the rise of anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world.

Each speaker at the Toronto event offered thought-provoking facts and opinions on every topic, and I generally was at least aware of the subject. For example, I knew Jesus was likely not fair-skinned and didn’t wear beautiful robes, as European artists have depicted Him over the centuries. Still, this historian and her archeological research was compelling.

Then Dr. Carmela Abraham took the stage and began talking about Klotho, a word and a thing totally unfamiliar to me. Hearing about something so novel really made my ears perk up. By the way, every person I’ve since asked has not heard of Klotho either, including a recent graduate in biosciences from Queen’s University.

And yet Klotho — an anti-aging protein — just may hold the key to solving several diseases, most notably Alzheimer’s. If any of the benefits come to fruition which Dr. Abraham described, Klotho will soon be a household word.

For example, she envisions a near future when a Klotho supplement can be taken each day to slow the progression of brain diseases just as today we take daily medication to lower blood pressure.

Dr. Abraham certainly has the credentials. She has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University and she is a professor of Biochemistry and Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine. She “has devoted her career to the study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease,” says her bio in the Ideacity program.

Discovered by accident in Japan in 1997, Klotho is a protein in humans hidden deep in our genes. Since its discovery, more than 2,000 scientific and academic papers have been written about Klotho, Dr. Abraham said.

That is an astounding number of research papers in little more than 20 years, indicating Klotho is very well known in certain scientific quarters. But in the public domain, it remains relatively unknown.  If you google “Klotho,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything but scientific papers, a small Wikipedia reference and a feature story in The New York Times from April 2019.

Here’s a snippet of published scientific research (Dr. Abraham is a co-author): “Multiple lines of evidence show that the anti-aging and cognition-enhancing protein Klotho fosters neuronal survival, increases the anti-oxidative stress defence and promotes remyelination of demyelinated axons. Thus, upregulation of the Klotho gene can potentially alleviate the symptoms and/or prevent the progression of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.”

In plain English, low levels of Klotho in humans is not a good thing and the research points to big things if science and medicine can come up with drugs to boost Klotho for those who need more.

Named after the Greek goddess of fate who spins the thread of life, Klotho’s link to brain diseases is irrefutable.

Dr. Abraham said Alzheimer’s patients are found having lower Klotho levels than other people their ages and she even suggests that boosting Klotho may build resistance in brain cells to actually prevent Alzheimer’s. Researchers think, she said, that boosting Klotho years before symptoms arise may be the key to eliminating Alzheimer’s.

This is exciting news, but she cautioned it’s still early. However, it looks like we’re years away, not decades and decades away, from a major breakthrough.

“As of today, there are over half a million Canadians living with dementia — plus about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, that number is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66 per cent,” says the Alzheimer Society of Canada website.

Dr. Abraham’s biochemistry team discovered in-vitro (in a test tube) that Klotho decreases with age in humans and in-vivo (“in the living”) that boosting Klotho improves the outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) in mice models. She and others are now exploring various methods for elevating the Klotho protein in the human brain.

With apologies to Winston Churchill, when it comes to defeating some horrible neurological diseases, we’re not at the end, but we’re past the beginning and could be at the beginning of the end.

For the sake of millions of patients and their families, let’s hope so. And the sooner the better. 

(Brehl is a writer and author of many books.)

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