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Cells grown in lab could help research into Alzheimer's disease

07 March 2011

By Alison Cranage

Appeared in BioNews 598

Scientists at Northwestern University, Chicago have transformed stem cells into a key type of brain cell that dies early in Alzheimer's disease. Their findings will allow scientists to study what causes the cells to die in Alzheimer's, potentially paving the way for new treatments.

The researchers created a specific type of nerve cells, called basal forebrain cholinergic neurons. These cells, present in small numbers in the brain, are involved in retrieving memories and are lost early in the neurodegenerative disease.

The researchers created the nerve cells using embryonic stem cells. The nerve cells could be used to test new treatments in the lab and, one day, be used to develop stem cell therapy, by transplanting the cells into people with the disease.

Dr Christopher Bissonnette, who led the research at Northwestern University, said: 'The technique to produce these neurons allows for an almost infinite number of these cells to be grown in labs, allowing other scientists the ability to study why this one population of cells selectively dies in Alzheimer's disease'.

Dr Christopher Bissonnette, who led the research at Northwestern University, said: 'The technique to produce these neurons allows for an almost infinite number of these cells to be grown in labs, allowing other scientists the ability to study why this one population of cells selectively dies in Alzheimer's disease'.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'We're a very long way off transplanting stem cells as a treatment for Alzheimer's, but this development could boost progress towards treatments by making the disease easier to study in the lab'.

'Stem cell research has the potential to increase our understanding about what happens in the brain when Alzheimer's takes hold. If we can understand what causes the brain cells to die we will have a better chance of finding ways to prevent cell death and fight the disease. However, the science behind stem cell therapy is still at an early stage and there is no evidence yet to suggest this method will be able to help people with dementia'.

The research was published in the journal Stem Cells.

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