Research on Mice could be the Breakthrough on Defeating Alzheimer’s, Dementia
Researchers at UCLA are using mice to experiment with a one-time injection using stem cell therapy to stop Alzheimer’s and dementia. The eventual goal with be to receive permission from the Food and Drug Administration to test the therapy in a clinical trial on humans, but that stage of development has not been reached.
This is promising research that could eventually be used to treat and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease, explains Elder Neglect Attorney, Jeffrey Downey. The two most common causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and white matter strokes—small strokes that accumulate in the connecting areas of the brain. Currently, there are no therapies that can stop the progression of white matter strokes or enhancing the brain’s limited ability to repair itself.
In the UCLA study published in Science Translation Medicine, glial cells are cells that support neurons in the central nervous system. The authors of the study evaluated the effects of their glial therapy by injecting it into the brains of mice with similar damage to that seen in humans in the early to middle stages of dementia.
Activating that repair process not only limited the progression of damage, but it also enhanced the formation of new neural connections and increased the production of myelin—a fatty substance that covers and protects the connections.
“Understanding the role that glia play in repairing white matter damage is a critically important area of research that needs to be explored,” said Francesca Bosetti, a program director at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which supported the study. “These preliminary results suggest that glial cell-based therapies may one day help combat the white matter damage that many stroke and vascular dementia patients suffer every year.”
The therapy was developed in collaboration with Bill Lowry, a UCLA professor of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology. The team used a method, previously discovered by Lowry, for quickly producing large numbers of glial cells by treating human induced pluripotent stem cells with a drug called deferoxamine. Induced pluripotent stem cells are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back to an embryonic stem cell-like state from which scientists can create an unlimited supply of any cell type.
In the future, if the therapy is shown to be safe and effective through clinical trials in humans, the researchers envision it becoming an “off-the-shelf” product, meaning that the cells would be mass manufactured, frozen and shipped to hospitals, where they could be used as a one-time therapy for people with early signs of white matter stroke.
That would set the treatment apart from patient-specific cell therapies, which are created using each individual patient’s own cells. While patient-specific cell therapies are appealing because they do not require patients to take drugs to prevent their immune systems from rejecting the transplanted cells, they are also expensive and can take weeks or months to produce.
“The damage from white matter strokes is progressive, so you don’t have months to spend producing a treatment for each patient,” said Carmichael, who is also Chair of Neurology at the medical school. “If you can have a treatment that’s already in the freezer ready to go during the window of time when it could be most effective, that’s a much better option.”
The brain is a particularly good target for off-the-shelf cell therapies because immune activity in the brain is highly controlled. That feature, known as immune privilege, allows donor cells or tissues that would be rejected by other parts of the body to survive for prolonged, even indefinite, periods.
Interestingly, the researchers found that even if they eliminated the injected cells a few months after they had been transplanted, the mice’s recovery was unaffected. That’s because the therapy primarily serves as a wake-up call to stimulate the brain’s own repair processes.
As America’s populations increases, so do the numbers of Americans afflicted by dementia. The numbers stand at over 6 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Of those 1 in 10 age 65 and over has Alzheimer’s dementia. For those 75 years and up, the numbers are 72 percent.
By 2025, in Virginia, the number of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s is expected to increase by 25 percent. For Maryland, it will be nearly 20 percent. And in the District of Columbia, it will be around 1 percent. This treatment, if effective, could significantly reduce the nursing home population by eliminating one of the most common causes of admission to SNFs, explains Downey. But for now, however, we as a country should make sure that our seniors received the quality care and protection they deserve, as many of our loved ones suffer through Alzheimer’s and dementia in their golden years.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility who has been injured, contact the law office of Jeffrey J. Downey, P.C., for a free consultation.
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