For people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, losing their memory is devastating. While there is a great deal of active research into how to treat the disease, we still don’t know how to predict who will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or how to effectively treat them. As the leading cause of dementia in the elderly, finding better ways to reduce the memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease is a priority for researchers.
Benefits of Neural Stem Cells
A study using stem cells, however, suggests promise for potentially improving the memory of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers used mice to look at how stem cells could improve memory. They genetically engineered the mice to have Alzheimer’s disease and treated them with stem cells.
Neural stem cells were injected into the brain of each mouse. Results showed that the mice performed much better on memory tests one month after receiving the stem cell injections. Researchers believe the stem cells have a protein that improves neural connections, helping to enhance the cognitive performance of the mouse. But just how did it work?
Regenerating the Brain
Researchers were actually surprised when they looked at the mouse brains. They had thought that the neural stem cells might have become fresh, new neurons. Or they thought that perhaps the stem cells had reduced the plaques that are classic signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Neither was the case. In fact, less than ten percent of the stem cells had become neurons.
Instead, the stem cells had secreted a special protein. This particular protein triggers the growth of new neurites. These neurites grew from tissue that was already present in the brain. The result was that the neurites enhanced the connections between the brain’s neurons. To confirm the results, researchers even reduced the protein from the neural stem cells and found that this benefit was removed.
Improvement That Lasts
Researchers also tried to just inject the mice with the protein, but although the mice showed some improvement, they did not show nearly as much improvement as when they received the neural stem cells. It seems that the injection of neural stem cells offers a longer lasting and more regular supply of this important protein.
Understanding How it Works
Researchers are still trying to make sense of the new findings. It seems that the plaques that are seen in patients who have Alzheimer’s disease are not the key area to look at when it comes to dementia. It is the loss of connections from one neuron to another in the human brain.
This makes sense with what we know about the stem cells once they were injected into the brain. These neural stem cells acted like a helping hand to encourage the brain to create new synapses. The stem cells also helped to repair those neurons that were damaged from disease.
Hope for Alzheimer’s Disease
With the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease continuing to rise, finding ways to reduce the damage remains the key to overcoming the devastating effects. As stem cell research grows, we may one day find a way to bring neural stem cell treatments to those who need it.