Stem cells and Alzheimer's disease

Sian Gregory, from our Will to Remember team, has a background with years of research into stem cells. Here Sian reports on some of the latest dementia research involving them.

What are stem cells?

Human stem cells present an exciting opportunity for future treatments.

Some stem cells are described as ‘pluripotent’ because they can become any type of cell in the human body. In contrast, ‘multipotent’ stem cells can only go on to become one of a more restricted number of types of cell.

Multipotent cells include human cortical neural stem cells – these can only grow into brain cells.

Although stem cells are mainly involved in our development while we’re still in the womb, they also allow us to grow and repair damage throughout our lives. Some types of stem cell exist in certain parts of our body, such as the muscle, during our entire lifetime.

Can stem cell research help with Alzheimer’s?

It has long been hoped that stem cell therapies could be used to repair the damage caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Although stem cell biology is a relatively new field, promising animal studies are beginning to show how stem cells might be able to treat diseases of the brain.

New research from Professor Eva Feldman at the University of Michigan has been testing this idea.

Her research group placed human neural stem cells into the brains of mice that were showing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The transplanted cells were put into the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory. The mice were then monitored to look for any changes in their thinking and memory skills.

stem cell

The results of the study

The mice had their memory tested for 16 weeks after the new cells were put inside their brains. The mice that had received the neural stem cells showed an improvement in short and long-term memory. They also had better spatial awareness compared to animals without the stem cell treatment.

Another feature of Alzheimer’s is the build-up of ‘plaques’ of a protein called amyloid within the brain. In the brains of the mice that had received the stem cell transplant, the number of amyloid plaques decreased.

This study also showed that microglia – cells that ‘mop up’ amyloid plaques in healthy brains – had been activated in response to the stem cell transplant, helping to protect the brains of the treated mice.

The future for stem cell therapy and Alzheimer's

Although still in its early days, this research shows that stem cell therapy has the potential to become a treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

It represents an exciting opportunity for further study, which someday might lead to human trials and therapies.

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Care and cure magazine: Spring 19

Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
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Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
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My mother passed away from EOAD in a July 2018 aged 65 having had the illness for 12 years, MCI in 2006-07.

Do you have any comment in daily express/mail/mirror Articles from
2018 to 2020 about Humperdinck’s assertion that his 83 year old wife, a sufferer of the disease for over 10 years, is showing improvements, initially through speech from stem cell
Acupuncture treatment?

I know things work differently for different people. How much credence do we give to those articles?

If I would have been advised about this from any clinical psychiatrist specialist in Manchester,UK - my family would have done everything in our power to have the same treatment for my mother. Irrespective of how far down the line she was.

(mr Humperdincks wife Can’t walk and
is 18 years older than my mum was when she passed)

Hello, Andrew. Thanks for getting in touch.
We’re really sorry to hear about your mother’s passing.
We have spoken with the Research team regarding your enquiry.
These types of treatments are still considered very experimental. The scientific studies that have been conducted are mostly in animal models rather than in humans. Here are some examples:
There is still a real need for more high quality research into both stem cell transplants and therapies, as well as acupuncture as an alternative therapy for people living with dementia.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence at the moment to say how beneficial treatments like these might be.
We hope this helps to answer some of your questions, Andrew.
Alzheimer’s Society blog team