Scientists Begin Stem Cell Research to Find Cure for Alzheimer’s

Animal testing has been found to be an unpredictable window into how people with Alzheimer’s disease will react to drug therapy. Scientists are hoping that stem cell research will allow for more accurate results in a more cost and time-efficient manner. According to a recent report, “Susan Solomon, chief executive of the nonprofit New York Stem Cell Foundation, which funds and conducts research involving stem cells, says, “Stem cells give you a window into a living human being’s brain, and that’s really extraordinary.”

The Costs of Alzheimer’ss Disease

Alzheimer’s (dementia) is one of the most costly diseases today, in terms of monetary expense and human life. In fact, costs may easily top the $1 trillion per year mark by 2050. Relatively low funding makes research time-consuming and frustrating for sufferers, their families and the scientific community that is trying to come up with treatment solutions. This progressive disease destroys the connections between neurons in the brain, gradually leading to the loss of cognitive capabilities, incapacitation and the need for palliative care for sufferers, putting the onus on caregivers and families to provide for their loved ones. With the current use of animal trials, to this date scientists have been unable to find a drug to slow the onset of the disease, since the reaction doesn’t necessary mimic that of human sufferers. 

Turning to Stem Cell Research

Scientists hope to use cell stem research to permit more efficient testing of drugs in the lab instead of in clinical trials, which are much more expensive. Scientists at the University of California in San Diego have utilized stems cells to create neurons that mimic Alzheimer’s. Hillary Clinton has proposed that neurologists should find a cure for this disease by 2025, thus raising funding and awareness that would benefit Indiana patients and their families, as well as the general population.

How Stem Cell Therapy Could Help Patients

There are currently no stem cell treatments available to treat Alzheimer’s patients, although research is ongoing according to a report from EuroStemCell. Since different neurons are affected by the disease, this proves to be a complex problem if therapy was expected to replace damaged brain cells. If neural stem cells were to be transplanted into a sufferer’s brain, the hope would be that they would generate new, healthy neurons, but first the neurons would have to reach all the areas where damage has occurred while producing all the different types of neurons needed to replace damaged or lost cells. This could only be achieved if the new neurons actually were able to integrate into the brain and provide the necessary lost or damaged pieces. So far, stem cell transplants in mice have shown some promise. This is, however, a very new, complex science and scientists are concerned that the human brain may not be able to integrate the new neurons once the patient has Alzheimer’s. The build-up of proteins within the brain may block or damage the cells, thus making any effect temporary. An alternative approach may be to use stem cells to deliver essential neurotrophins to the brain since they naturally produce these proteins. The use of stem cells from patients who already suffer from Alzheimer’s may also help scientists study the disease and search for new drugs to combat its effects.