Stem cells could replace neurons lost to Alzheimer's

For those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, one of the first things to go is their basal forebrain cholinergic neurons (BFCN), associated with deficits in spatial learning and memory. The death of these neurons leads to memory-retrieval problems. So, while there is no single magic bullet that will lead to a cure for Alzheimer's, scientists are looking closely at how to replace lost BFCN. A new study published in the journal Stem Cell looks at the potential of human embryonic stem cells to be transformed into BFCN. These homegrown neurons could be used to test possible Alzheimer's drugs or could potentially replace the cells lost to Alzheimer's.

"I like to be very cautious, and not tell people that now we have a treatment for Alzheimer's," co-author Dr. John A. Kessler, from the department of neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told HealthDay. "But now we can actually make human cells that are exactly the kind of groups of neurons that play a central role in memory and seem to die very early on in the onset of Alzheimer's."

The research team tells HealthDay that Alzheimer's does not result in the loss of memories themselves, but rather impairs sufferers' ability to access the memories. BFC neurons play a role in retrieving these memories and generating fresh ones. HealthDay tells the story of lead author Christopher Bissonnette, whose loss of a grandfather to Alzheimer's spurred him to investigate the potential of embryonic stem cells to form replacement BFC neurons. They reported success in laboratory animals with the embryonic cells, but are also looking at adult skin cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells, for the same purpose. This would avoid some of the ethical issues surrounding use of embryonic stem cells, Kessler tells HealthDay.

- read the HealthDay story
- and take a look at the abstract in the journal Stem Cells

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