News Feature | March 7, 2014

Stem Cells Driving Alzheimer's Research

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By Marcus Johnson

Stem cell researchers from Harvard have been able to turn patients’ skin cells into neurons that can be affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s. Experts believe that this will make it easier to gather the results of cells affected by the disease. It is also believed that the research will make the development of new treatments a faster process.

The research was published in the Human Molecular Genetics journal and headed by Tracy Young-Pearse. The data showed that peopl suffering from Alzheimer’s had cell mutations t similar to mutations occurring in mice. “We see this mild increase in Aβ42 in cells from patients with Alzheimer's disease, which seems to be enough to trigger disease processes,” said Young-Pearse. “We also see increases of a smaller species of amyloid-beta called Aβ38, which was unexpected as it should not be very aggregation prone. We don't fully understand what it means, but it may combine with other forms of amyloid-beta to stimulate plaque formation.”

The researchers hope that their work can lead to new drugs that are more effective against the disease. Alzheimer’s drugs have had a high rate of failure during clinical trials because much of the drug development was based on non-human models. Young-Pearse hopes that their research can make it easier to treat the disease and develop new drugs. “Because of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, we were able to work with other researchers to make patient cells into any type of neuron," said Young-Pearse. "The environment provides a really nice system for testing many kinds of hypotheses.”