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.
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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