Alzheimer’s Disease is devastating, not only in what it does to the brain but also in that its effects are so complex. The medical world does not know exactly what causes the onset of Alzheimer’s or have a grasp on all of the disease’s complexities, so no cure has been developed. However, the exploration of the use of stem cells as treatment is in very early stages, and preliminary results show some promise.
Before we tell you about a specific case study, here’s some background information on some of the complex problems with brain neurons that occur in Alzheimer’s patients:
Two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are the build-up of two different proteins: amyloid beta and tau. When one develops Alzheimer’s Disease, amyloid beta protein builds up into clumps called plaques. Tau twists and tangles up. An enzyme known as neprilysin that breaks down the amyloid beta protein occurs in lower levels in patients with Alzheimer’s.
The Study at UC Irvine
The study by neurobiologists at the University of California at Irvine suggests that stem cell research can have positive effects for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and should be explored further.
In the study, the researchers injected a group of mice (that were bred to have Alzheimer’s symptoms) with stem cells that were modified to express the gene coding for the production of neprilysin in abundances. In the mice with these modified cells, the modified cells produced 25 times more neprilysin than the control group of mice.
Additionally, genetically modified cells were transplanted into the two brain areas that are most affected with the disease. The brains of those mice that received the modified cells showed a great reduction in amyloid beta build-up. These results persisted for greater than one month after the transplant in all subjects.
Other Stem Cell Approaches
In addition to the process used in the study at UC Irvine, there is speculation about other ways in which stem cells could help Alzheimer’s. In one scenario, stem cells could be used to regenerate the parts of the brain that have been plagued by the disease. However, there exists a major problem with this method: because of the way that the brain is designed, the brain is integral to memory, so if a new part of the brain could be produced by stem cells, there would be memories. It is still possible in this case that patients could create and remember new memories.
Stem cells such as mesenchymal stem cells could be used to act as healers and not re-placers. These mesenchymal cells could also possibly be used to deliver drugs, making the journey from cell to cell within the brain more direct and effective.
Stem Cells and Alzheimer’s: More Information Required
While the study at UC Irvine and its results on the mice show some positive results, stem cells and their affects on Alzheimer’s Disease require further research. The use of stem cells to treat Alzheimer’s is not ready for human testing.
For more information, contact the Stem Cell Institute serving the Dallas and Fort Worth area.