Stem cell therapy and neurodegenerative diseases

Over 850,000 people in the UK suffer with dementia[1]
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting 62% of those diagnosed[1]
One person is diagnosed with dementia every three minutes[1]
One in six people over 80 years of age has dementia[1]
Dementia costs £26 billion a year to the UK healthcare system[1]

people in the UK
suffer with dementia

What are neurodegenerative diseases?

Degenerative nerve diseases, or neurodegenerative diseases, refers to a range of diseases that primarily affect the neurons in the brain and the wider nervous system. Many of these are genetic, although they can sometimes develop as a result of a medical condition like alcoholism, a tumour, or a stroke. However, the underlying cause of neurodegenerative diseases is often uncertain.

At present, neurodegenerative diseases are incurable and available treatments only alleviate the symptoms and improve mobility. These diseases include Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia), Friedreich’s ataxia, Huntington’s illness, Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s illness (prion), as well as Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease / amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)[2].

Neurodegenerative diseases are often associated with multiple types of dementia, characterised by variable degrees of memory loss, mood changes and communication issues. Dementia is one of the most difficult medical and economic problems facing today’s society. As the incidence of dementia is likely to increase as the population ages, it’s predicted that the number of people affected will double over the next 20 years.

Stem cell therapy research

The use of stem cells for neurodegenerative diseases is becoming increasingly of interest to scientists and medical researchers. As a result, clinical applications of stem cells for treating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and various scleroses are evolving.

Stem cell treatment for Alzheimer’s focuses on neuron replacement possibilities and nervous tissue growth. In 2016, researchers at the Alzheimer’s Research UK conference in Manchester highlighted stem cells’ promise for testing new Alzheimer’s drugs[3]. The Nobel Prize-winning research-based method harnesses the distinctive characteristics of stem cells to recreate procedures that occur in the human brain.

Dr Zam Cader of the University of Oxford spoke on the use of stem cells in dementia studies at this meeting:

“While stem cells are revolutionising the way many scientists are addressing big unanswered questions in dementia research, key challenges remain in ensuring nerve cells grown in this way faithfully recreate what happens in the brain and provide genuine insights into diseases like Alzheimer’s. Stem cell techniques are one of a number of emerging new approaches for studying the diseases that cause dementia and investment in developing this area of research will be vital in speeding up the search for much-needed new treatments.”

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