Posted on Nov 19, 2018, 8 p.m.
Implantation of neural stem cells into the brains of model mice has been shown to improve recognition, spatial memory, and learning, as published in Nature Scientific Reports.
Alzheimer mice are being turned back to normal cognition with stem cells says neurologist Dr. Eva Feldman, using neural stem cells as a means to improve cognition in AD models is a breakthrough.
Research is about 3-5 years from clinical trial, but the use of stem cells in AD model mice has gained Feldman’s lab a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging so they can continue their work. Advocates are hopeful as volunteers educate lawmakers and lobby to prioritize research funding, which has quadrupled over the past 5 years to $425 million.
Currently there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the National Institute on Aging says current treatments focus on maintaining, managing, or slowing disease symptoms. This University of Michigan research is inspiring as this is not an orphan disease, it is one that is experiencing an epidemic in the USA. This is just one of many projects underway worldwide to battle this disease which is the sixth leading cause of death within the USA alone where more than 5.7 million people live with the disease costing about $277 billion a year according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The organization calls this a crisis as over 14 million are projected to be afflicted with this brain wasting disease with the oncoming silver tsunami by the year 2050 that could have a cost reaching over $1 trillion.
In recent years there have been several breakthroughs such as more advanced brain imaging that can show more clearly what is happening in the brain making it able to see amyloid build up and tau; which opened paths to research with people for changes in the brain that can occur up to 20 years before symptoms appear.
The Alzheimer’s Association also supports studies investigating prevention and lifestyle which includes exercise, diet, and social activities, feeling the answer may be a combination intervention. The association is very excited about the research coming out of Feldman’s lab involving stem cells showing hope and promise, as most drug therapies have very little effect currently and stem cells can work in so many ways.
Stem cells were injected into the animal’s hippocampus, testing after injection showed improvements in various types of memory. At 4 weeks after stem cell transplants improved short term recognition memory was shown; and 16 weeks after transplants the animals showed improved spatial learning. Models receiving stem cell injections also showed reduced amyloid plaques.
Henry Paulson suggests that these injections of stems cells may not be replacing lost neurons, rather more likely to be boosting an inflammatory response in the brain which is highly beneficial itself. Many researchers are interested in boosting inflammatory pathways as a means to make a dent in this brain wasting disease. Feldman’s work is a small step in learning which avenues may lead to effective therapies, in which many have failed thus far. This intriguing study suggests that stem cell treatment may be beneficial perhaps by boosting a microglial response.
Feldman’s lab next steps will involve this research with a small animal to show it is safe in a larger animal which is hoped to take them to clinical trials. This work is still a long way from therapy in humans, but is a very promising step in the right direction towards treatment for people who are affected by this devastating disease.
To put in simple terms why this disease is so devastating: one must mourn a person sitting right next to you every day as they slowly change, fading away until they die; knowing there is no cure or hope in a process which can take years. Lost are the memories one clings to in trying times, close bonds forgotten, and the ability to simply function is ripped away.
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