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Published on: January 25, 2012
by Sadie Whitelocks for Daily Mail:
Brain cells damaged by Alzheimer’s have been created for the first time, offering hope to dementia patients. It is believe that the breakthrough could help scientists better understand how the degenerative condition affects the the nervous system, prompting more effective treatment.
Alzheimer’s is characterised by loss of neurons and synapses, leading to gradual memory loss and difficulties with language and emotions. And until now investigations have been limited to ‘non-neuronal human cells’ or ‘animal models’.
However a team from the University of California have developed a way of growing human cells. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but medication is available that can slow down its development.
During the research skin cells from two patients with a rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s were taken and used to create neurons displaying biochemical hallmarks of the disease.
Lead researcher Professor Lawrence Goldstein, said: ‘Creating highly purified and functional human Alzheimer’s neurons in a dish – this has never been done before. ‘It’s a first step. These aren’t perfect models. They’re proof of concept. But now we know how to make them. It requires extraordinary care and diligence, really rigorous quality controls to induce consistent behaviour, but we can do it.’
Prof Goldstein highlighted in the paper, published in the journal Nature, that differences between a healthy neuron and an Alzheimer’s neuron are subtle. But being able to grow Alzheimer’s neurons will help scientists to better understand how the nervous system is impacted and which drugs would be most effective.
He added: ‘We need to do everything we can because the cost of this disease is just too heavy and horrible to contemplate. Without solutions, it will bankrupt us – emotionally and financially.’
Further research is now underway. He said: ‘We’re dealing with the human brain. You can’t just do a biopsy on living patients.’Instead, researchers have had to work around, mimicking some aspects of the disease in . Neither approach is really satisfactory.’
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which is a group of symptoms associated with a decline in mental abilities, such as memory and reasoning and is most common in people aged over 65. It attacks nerves, brain cells and neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages to and from the brain).
Dementia affects around 570,000 people in England, with Alzheimer’s disease responsible for around 60 per cent of all cases.
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