Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease that affects 5.4 million people and costs $183 billion per year. It is the 6th biggest killer in the US, and the only one in the top 10 that cannot be cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. While there is a genetic component in some types of Alzheimer's, the exact causes are not known. But scientists in the UK may have found a way to use stem cells to better understand this terrible condition.
The issue with studying Alzheimer's is that it is all happens in the brain. Symptoms include memory loss, diminished problem solving, confusion, and mood issues, amongst others. For researchers to do meaningful studies, they need access to brain cells, which are found only in the brain.
Brain surgery isn't performed on a whim, and getting patients and their families to consent to invasive surgery to harvest cells can be difficult, but scientists at Alzheimer's Research UK may have found a better way to do it.
By using induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, they were able to take stem cells from a patient's skin and coax them into becoming brain cells. Because Alzheimer’s is a genetic condition, these new cells still show signs of the disease, and they can be compared with healthy brain cells to better understand the faulty mechanisms in place.
The UK scientists discovered elevated levels of several proteins in the nerve cells from Alzheimer's patients that were less present in healthy cells. These could lead to clues about how to delay or even reverse some of the effects of the disease. It is the hope that with easier access to brain cells, researchers can accelerate potential treatments for multiple types of dementia in the future.
Learn more about new advancements in stem cell technology at the Stem Cells USA and Regenerative Medicine Congress 2012.