Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent form of dementia, which itself is associated with poor brain memory, restricted ability to think and innovate etc. Unfortunately, the cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s is still not fully understood, yet the cure might have already been found. Have we possibly already found the treatment for a disease that we only have scratched the surface for, in terms of knowledge?
It is important to know that Alzheimer’s is a life-limiting, not a life-ending disease. Hence, it affects everyday life to a greater extent, as people have to contend with not being able to remember their loved ones, or important memories. It has a great psychological effect on those that care for those with dementia, as they may feel isolated or not loved anymore. Hence, whilst it does not directly cause death, it is still of utmost significance for scientists in this day and age. Yet they have a starting point and that is down to the sheer ingenuity of Shinya Yamanaka.
In 2006, Yamanaka showed that skin cells can be reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells by artificially adding 4 genes. These pluripotent stem cells are usually found in the embryos, meaning that these cells can be converted into any cell needed, including neuron cells, which normally die due to Alzheimer’s, as there is a toxic buildup of certain proteins. The act of replacing cells that do not meet the functions anymore is known as cell therapy, and this itself, is a new and promising area of science.
Researchers are continuing to work to better understand how cell reprogramming works in order to fully comprehend the mechanism that is used to produce these stem cells. Yet the need for greater understanding has recently amplified in recent memory, as medication for Alzheimer’s is only really treated for its symptoms, rather than directly attacking the buildup of toxic proteins, to prevent Alzheimer’s. Medication that is currently in use is ACHe inhibitors, which increases the level of acetylcholine, which helps nerve cells communicate with each other. However, this is not as effective as it could be, as the side effects, such as nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, may still remain. Coupled with recent media coverage into dementia and Alzheimer’s, researches are now feeling more pressure to continue researching into induced pluripotent stem cells.
The remarkable thing about induced pluripotent stem cells is that it is not just limited to dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s; it is a much more far-reaching, wide-ranging medicinal discovery. In fact, in 2009, skin cells from people with Parkinson’s disease were converted into dopamine-producing neurons in order to model the disease on a smaller scale in a petri dish. In fact, ever since this discovery induced pluripotent stem cells are now used to screen drugs and model human diseases. So, iPS has been useful in helping us to simplify diseases, but researches now want to use it to directly cure a disease. Yet, as mentioned before, there are too many stumbling blocks in the way. The only clinical trial using iPS was halted in 2015 in Japan, after only one person had received treatment. There is only a long road ahead, but researches can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Photo Credits due to: Lahul Vijayanathan