Stem cell research
Alzheimer's Society postion statement
The Society sees considerable potential in stem cell research from all sources, including embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning, to help find cures for dementia.
Stem cell research has already been identified as a main concern for the QRD network, and the Society has joined forces with the Medical Research Council (MRC) and other charities to fund a number of stem cell research fellowships.
Stem cells are cells in the body that can develop into any of the different cell types needed to make a human being - for instance, heart cells, skin cells, nerve cells and so on.
The ability of stem cells to turn into any cell type that the body needs means that they have major potential to treat diseases where tissue has been damaged. Stem cells can be grown to produce new skin, heart, muscle or liver tissue, which can be transplanted into the individual without any risk of rejection.
This is an exciting and promising area for medicine that may revolutionise the treatment of many diseases in the coming decades. Stem cells can also grow into nerve cells and, as a result, have the potential to repair brain damage caused by neurological conditions.
In Alzheimer's disease, nerve cells die in a random way, interrupting the complex inter-connections of nerve cells in the cortex (the outer layer of the brain). It is this network of cells that facilitates our memories, personalities and behaviour patterns.
Because of the loss of many different nerve cell types in the brain in Alzheimer's disease and the impact that the disease has on communication between cells, developing stem cell therapy for Alzheimer's disease is more complicated and challenging than for some other neurological conditions.
While it is unlikely that Alzheimer's disease will be one of the first diseases to benefit from advances in this area of research, it is possible that stem cell therapy may lead to advances in the treatment of people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia in the long term.
Some forms of dementia develop as a result of a condition other than Alzheimer's disease. People who have multiple sclerosis, Huntington's or Parkinson's disease may develop dementia. Parkinson's disease is probably one of the most promising neurological disease areas likely to benefit from stem cell therapy.
In 2002, the Alzheimer's Society awarded a fellowship grant to a three-year research project entitled 'Neural Stem Cells and Replacement of Lost Neurons in Experimental Models of Neurodegeneration'. Its objective is to use animal models of nerve cell loss that mimic the loss seen in Alzheimer's disease and see whether it is possible to replace the nerve cells with stem cells from bone marrow.
The Society is campaigning for:
- The advancement of stem cell research in order to explore its potential for treating Alzheimer's disease and other causes of dementia
- European legislation that will allow stem cell research to continue anddevelop within a strict regulatory framework
- Better public understanding of the issues involved in stem cell research and of the potential benefits of this type of therapy.
Alzheimer's Society (2003) Stem cell research. London.
Department of Health (2000) Stem cell research: medical progress with responsibility. London.
Last updated: July 2004
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