Basil forebrain: image via basisonline.orgThis is the story of healthy cells tracing the pathway of killer cells to repair, instead of breakdown, the memory function destroyed by Alzheimer's disease. The transplant method, undertaken by researchers as Northwestern University Medical School, was so successful in mouse brains, that there is reason to believe it might work for humans with Alzheimer's disease.
In Alzheimer's, cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain die off as the disease progresses, and that kills memory. After studying the development of the genetic signals that guide the development of the cholinergic neurons, the Northwestern researchers embellished human embryonic stem cells so they could develop in the same way as the cholinergic neurons.
Creating pores in the walls of the stem cell nuclei, they slipped in segments of DNA and gene-regulating proteins associated with cholinergic neurons. They then transplanted the lab-made neurons into segments of mouse brain, where the neurons wove themselves through the hippocampus, the region responsible for memory formation. Once they were established, these neurons actually began producing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is instrumental in the retrieval of memories.
Not a cure, of course, but lab neurons, if implanted in a human brain, might at least be a form of therapy. Additionally, these neurons can be tested in the lab to see how they react to possible other, perhaps drug, treatments.
John Kessler, a member of the Northwestern University team put it this way: "Now we can have human neurons in a dish in front of use and rapidly screen tens of thousands of drugs."
This research will be published in the journal Stem Cells.