This week there is new research from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine about Alzheimer’s Disease regarding a new method to study Alzheimer’s brain cells.
One of the BIG Challenges in Alzheimer’s research is the lack of a model to to test cells for further study. A model to study both the disease process and the reactions of Alzheimer’s cells to therapies is necessary to study it outside humans.
Until recently there has been no Alzheimers test other than a doctor or other health care professional examining the patient. Recently there has been success with PET Scan imaging studies. And Alzheimer’s testing in the lab has also had similar problems because Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease of humans.
Researchers used new technology to turn skin cells from Alzheimer’s patients and into brain cells. Embryonic stem cells are not used, rather induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) were used. Inducing something in medicine means to cause it to happen artificially, not in nature.
Wondering what induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) are?
Well, iPSC are cells usually from adult somatic (body) cells that are artificially converted into stem cells.
Lawrence S.B. Goldstein, Ph.D. explains more about this technology in this video…
If you can’t see the video, click here to see it.
The press release from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine follows, then my comments…
Researchers Induce Alzheimer’s Neurons From Pluripotent Stem Cells
First-ever feat provides new method to understand cause of disease, develop drugsJanuary 25, 2012 | By Scott LaFee
Led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, scientists have, for the first time, created stem cell-derived, in vitro models of sporadic and hereditary Alzheimer’s disease (AD), using induced pluripotent stem cells from patients with the much-dreaded neurodegenerative disorder.
“Creating highly purified and functional human Alzheimer’s neurons in a dish – this has never been done before,” said senior study author Lawrence Goldstein, PhD, professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program. “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 behavior, but we can do it.”
The feat, published in the January 25 online edition of the journal Nature, represents a new and much-needed method for studying the causes of AD, a progressive dementia that afflicts approximately 5.4 million Americans. More importantly, the living cells provide an unprecedented tool for developing and testing drugs to treat the disorder.
“We’re dealing with the human brain. You can’t just do a biopsy on living patients,” said Goldstein. “Instead, researchers have had to work around, mimicking some aspects of the disease in non-neuronal human cells or using limited animal models. Neither approach is really satisfactory.”
Goldstein and colleagues extracted primary fibroblasts from skin tissues taken from two patients with familial AD (a rare, early-onset form of the disease associated with a genetic predisposition), two patients with sporadic AD (the common form whose cause is not known) and two persons with no known neurological problems. They reprogrammed the fibroblasts into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that then differentiated into working neurons.
The iPSC-derived neurons from the Alzheimer’s patients exhibited normal electrophysiological activity, formed functional synaptic contacts and, critically, displayed tell-tale indicators of AD. Specifically, they possessed higher-than-normal levels of proteins associated with the disorder.
With the in vitro Alzheimer’s neurons, scientists can more deeply investigate how AD begins and chart the biochemical processes that eventually destroy brain cells associated with elemental cognitive functions like memory. Currently, AD research depends heavily upon studies of post-mortem tissues, long after the damage has been done.
“The differences between a healthy neuron and an Alzheimer’s neuron are subtle,” said Goldstein. “It basically comes down to low-level mischief accumulating over a very long time, with catastrophic results.”
The researchers have already produced some surprising findings. “In this work, we show that one of the early changes in Alzheimer’s neurons thought to be an initiating event in the course of the disease turns out not to be that significant,” Goldstein said, adding that they discovered a different early event plays a bigger role.
The scientists also found that neurons derived from one of the two patients with sporadic AD exhibited biochemical changes possibly linked to the disease. The discovery suggests that there may be sub-categories of the disorder and that, in the future, potential therapies might be targeted to specific groups of AD patients.
Though just a beginning, Goldstein emphasized the iPSC-derived Alzheimer’s neurons present a huge opportunity in a desperate fight. “At the end of the day, we need to use cells like these to better understand Alzheimer’s and find drugs to treat it. 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.”
Funding for this research came, in part, from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Weatherstone Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Hartwell Foundation, the Lookout Fund and the McDonnell Foundation.
A patent application has been filed on this technology by the University of California, San Diego. For more information, go to: http://techtransfer.universityofcalifornia.edu/NCD/22199.html
Co-authors are Mason A. Israel and Sol M. Reyna, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and UCSD Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program; Shauna H. Yuan, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and UCSD Department of Neurosciences; Cedric Bardy and Yangling Mu, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies; Cheryl Herrera, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine; Michael P. Hefferan, UCSD Department of Anesthesiology; Sebastiaan Van Gorp, Department of Anesthesiology, Maastricht University Medical Center, Netherlands; Kristopher L. Nazor, Department of Chemical Physiology, The Scripps Research Institute; Francesca S. Boscolo and Louise C. Laurent, UCSD Department of Reproductive Medicine; Christian T. Carson, BD Biosciences; Martin Marsala, UCSD Department of Anesthesiology and Institute of Neurobiology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia; Fred H. Gage, The Salk Institute of Biological Studies; Anne M. Remes, Department of Clinical Medicine, Neurology and Clinical Research Center, University of Oulu, Finland; and Edward H. Koo, UCSD Department of Neurosciences.
About Alzheimer’s disease
An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Two-thirds are women. By 2050, as many as 16 million Americans are projected to have the disease. In 2011, the economic cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients exceeded $183 billion, projected to rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 75,000 Americans annually. Currently, there are no drugs to prevent, alter or cure the disease.
Do you see how exciting this new research is?
While preliminary, it is exciting to think it can lead to new study of Alzheiemer’s disease. And new treatments, including new approaches to treatment may be in the near future. Surely they are closer than they were a decade ago!
Are you caring for or worried about someone with Alzheimer’s?
You’re not alone. With over 5 million persons in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s, those numbers are huge. And even more concerning is the projected numbers in 2050 – triple what they are today!
In the midst of all those people affected, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone when you are caring for someone with any dementia.
Wondering why caregiving can be lonely?
Problems arise on the weekends or at night, or just anytime you’re the only one available.
It takes a certain kind of compassion to give of yourself to another, and to care for her when she can no longer care for herself. Not everyone has it.
I call it the heart of a caregiver.
It’s probably an important part of who you are. And definitely it’s why you do what you do.
Caregiving may be the hardest thing you ever do…and the best. You’re giving yourself to someone you love.
Even if she can no longer love you…
Is caregiving a journey you don’t see an end to? Or a happy ending?
Caregiving can make getting lost on the highway seem like a piece of cake!
Well, you’re not alone…
Now there’s a road map to show you how to navigate caregiving.
To your healthy and happy caregiving,
Ina Gilmore, M.D. (Retired)
“The Knitting Dr.”
Bestselling Author of “What Do I Say In a Sympathy Card?”
Creator of A HEART PLAN