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Deposits of Copper and Magnetic Iron Found in Alzheimer's Patients' Brains

Set aside every scrap of iron inside a human body and you might have enough to fashion a nail or two. As for copper, you'd be lucky to extract just enough to make a small earring.

Scarce as they are, these two metals are necessary for our survival, playing essential roles in human growth and metabolism. But one place we wouldn't expect to find either is clumped inside our brain cells.

However, for people with the neurodegenerative disorder Alzheimer's disease, something seems to be turning these elements into microscopic ingots.

A team of researchers from the US and UK spotted the tell-tale glint of copper and iron in their elemental forms using a form of X-ray microscopy (STXM) on samples of neural plaques taken from the frontal and temporal lobes of Alzheimer's patients.

Plaques are a typical feature of this particular form of dementia, made up of proteins broken down into what's known as beta-amyloid.

Yet therapies focused on clearing clumps of beta-amyloid from the brain haven't led us much closer to a treatment for Alzheimer's, leaving researchers wondering what role – if any – they play in the disease's progress.

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