Stem cell study leads to potential new dementia treatment

Posted: December 31, 2014 at 8:49 pm

The research involved creating human cells in a laboratory dish instead of relying on tests on mice. Photograph: corfield / Alamy/Alamy

Cells used to study dementia in a dish have led scientists to a potential new treatment strategy for an inherited form of the brain disease.

Defective stem cells grown in the lab revealed a signalling pathway linked to frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which accounts for about half of dementia cases before the age of 60.

Treatment with a drug that suppressed the pathway, known as Wnt, restored the ability of neurons affected by the disease to develop normally.

Prof Philip Van Damme, from the Leuven Research Institute for Neuroscience and Disease in Belgium, said: Our findings suggest that signalling events required for neurodevelopment may also play major roles in neurodegeneration.

Targeting such pathways, as for instance the Wnt pathway presented in this study, may result in the creation of novel therapeutic approaches for frontotemporal dementia.

Mutations in the progranulin (GRN) gene are commonly associated with FTD, which results in damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

The fact that GRN mutations produced in mice do not display all the features of the human disorder has limited progress towards effective treatments for FTD.

Instead of relying on animal tests, the new research involved creating human cells in a laboratory dish.

The scientists reprogrammed skin cells from three dementia patients into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), immature cells that mimic stem cells taken from early-stage embryos.

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Stem cell study leads to potential new dementia treatment

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