All of us tend to forget things once in a while. However, forgetting whole conversations and events in advancing age may be an indication of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This neurodegenerative disorder is accompanied by a progressive decline in cognitive functions, memory impairment, and personality change.
As the disease progresses, it is difficult to control and treat. As the brain cells start to fade out, stem cell research comes to the rescue. The systemic introduction of these cells into the body through stem cell treatment has provided hope for finding a cure for this health condition. Read on to learn more about the benefits of stem cell research for Alzheimer’s patients.
According to the World Health Organization, AD is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of the total cases. As per the latest findings, almost 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and 10 million new cases arise annually.
Alzheimer’s is a disease where the brain cells called neurons stop functioning properly. Neurons are special cells in the brain that transmit signals and create communication pathways in the brain. This is how they can be damaged:
With the onset of the disease, the amyloid precursor protein (APP) in the neurons starts to form clumps called ‘plaques’. These plaques interfere with the connection between two neurons outside the cell. When the brain cells cannot communicate with each other, it affects various cognitive functions, including memory.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by brain cell degeneration. This degeneration of nerve cells happens due to the formation of “tangles” in the brain. As the neurons or brain cells age, the “Tau” protein forms tangles inside the cell. These tangles can cause programmed cell death. It happens in the later stages of the disease, and the death of neurons results in loss of memory, lack of response to the environment, and participation in daily activities.
AD is difficult to diagnose early due to the gradual degeneration of brain cells. The first signs mostly appear after a person crosses the threshold of sixty years. As the patients lose focus and clarity in daily activities and forget the names of common people, they realize that something is wrong. Family members are usually the first ones to detect these abnormalities. The major signs and symptoms of the disorder include:
- Memory problems
- Repeating the same statements or actions
- Lack of creativity
- Loss of spontaneous thinking
- Problems in making financial decisions
- Indecision regarding common matters
- Mood swings
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in later stages include:
- Changes in personality
- Heightened aggression and anxiety
- Losing the ability to communicate properly
- Loss of weight
- Poor bladder and bowel control
- Skin infections
This condition is still a bit of a mystery for the medical community. Doctors cannot pinpoint the actual cause of the disease. At the same time, there are various methods of slowing down the degeneration of brain cells and prolonging the lifespan of the patient.
The most common method of treating Alzheimer’s is through medication. These medicines, including donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine, help to manage the symptoms of the disease. However, they have major side effects, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Drowsiness or dizziness
In some cases, these adverse reactions of drugs prescribed for AD may be unbearable. As well, these medications are often not able to provide the expected therapeutic results.
Taking all this into account, Alzheimer’s disease treatment with stem cells can be considered a highly effective alternative to standard methods of treatment, as it is able to improve the function of the nerve cells without side effects.
Due to research and studies, stem cells are known to have a high success rate when treating Alzheimer’s. They are the building blocks of the human body. They can repair heart, nerve, and skin tissues by multiplying cells rapidly.
Also, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can find the inflammation within the brain and fix it. They reduce the protein that causes plaques and tangles in the brain, thereby improving memory and cognitive function.
There are several pieces of evidence about the effectiveness and safety of using stem cell-based drugs to manage health conditions in AD:
- In the latest clinical trial held by Takuya Kanamaru, the intracerebral transplantation of stem cells reduced the deposition of protein amyloid-β (Aβ) in the AD model mice improving their memory.
- Nine patients, defined by the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke-Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association, underwent a clinical trial for stem cell therapy. These patients were given bilateral stereotactic injections of human umbilical cord blood-derived MSCs into the hippocampus. The trial demonstrated the safety of the therapy and the absence of side effects.
- Another research by Sung S. Choi and colleagues in a 2014 study titled Alzheimer’s Disease and Stem Cell Therapy showed that transplanted stem cells have lasting effects on the activation of endogenous stem cells and regeneration of injured cells or tissues. It has been also shown that cell-based treatment can lead to improved cognitive and memory functions, as well as increased neuron survival.
There are various forms of treatment for Alzheimer’s with stem cells. These types of administrations include:
Patients are given intravenous injections for MSCs delivery to the body. Multiple doses of cells come directly into the systemic circulation where they travel through the vein and cross the blood‐brain barrier to enter the hippocampus for functional activities.
In this method, the stem cell transplant is delivered into the functional area of the hippocampus. It requires a 3‐dimensional positioning device and imaging system. Doctors inject cell-based drug into the hippocampus directly through the micro holes in the skull.
In this procedure, MSCs are delivered to the brain via nasal drops. This is a non-invasive, painless, and convenient method of introducing MSCs into the brain. It has proven to be effective in APP/PS1 transgenic mice showing functional improvement in the brain.
Stem cell therapy aims to regenerate the damaged neurons in the brain since these cells can multiply fast and promote recovery. They can also reduce the amount of amyloid precursor protein (APP). Removing this protein can improve the connections between various brain cells, thus enhancing brain activity.
According to Dr. Choi, MSCs have the following impact:
- Regenerate neurons and form healthy cells;
- Enhance functional recovery of the brain;
- Improve memory, mood, motivation, cognitive functions, and self-care skills;
- Enhance metabolic activity;
- Promote survival rates in Alzheimer’s patients.
MSCs have proven effective and safe in treating various health conditions. Stem cell therapy helps to avoid the painful side effects of medications available for AD, while at the same time improving brain function and nerve cell regeneration, and bringing hope to people suffering from this disorder. However, there is still much to uncover in stem cell research for Alzheimer’s disease. What do you make of it?