A recent study done by researchers from the University of California Irvine, the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders have discovered that dementia with Lewy bodies can be treated by neural stem cell transplantation in the brains of mice.
This act resulted to the improvement of motor and cognitive functions.
To recall, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is said to rank second to Alzheimer's disease as the most common type of dementia resulting from aging. This said condition results from the excessive accumulation of a type of protein called alpha-synuclein which forms into spherical shapes called Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies can also accumulate in other neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease. When these spherical masses accumulate, this can disrupt the normal functioning of nerve cells in the brain, further leading to imbalances in neurochemicals thus leading to chaos and death of brain cells.
The Dementia Study
In this study, the researchers hope that neural stem cells would be transplanted into humans and would bring about the same results as that in animal studies. This can help people with DLB and can improve motor and cognitive decline.
The researchers transplanted neural stem cells into mice which have been genetically modified to exhibit characteristics of DLB. After one month, these mice were tested with regards to their behaviour and they were found out to have improvements in motor and cognitive functioning. They were able to run faster and recognize objects better than those mice with DLB.
Further analysis revealed that the effect of stem cells on the brain cells and the connecting neurons are attributed to the levels of a growth factor, known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This growth factor is secreted by neural stem cells.
The researchers then examined dopamine and glutamine producing neurons which are two key parts of the brain that are damaged in response to DLB. They found out that neural stem cells when transplanted enhance the functions of both glutamine-secreting and dopamine-secreting neurons. These neural stem cells seem to tell the brain cells to communicate and connect with each other more effectively. This activity enhanced by neural stem cells can bring about improvement in cognitive and motor function. The researchers then changed the stem cells so as to not produce the growth factor anymore. Without the growth factor, the neural stem cells failed to bring about those motor and cognitive improvements.
The researchers hope that one day, neural stem cell transplantation would find use not only in DLB and other neurodegenerative diseases but also in other diseases. More studies are needed at present to further establish this method's safety and efficacy.
To know more about dementia, feel free to read our other articles on this site.
Written by: Dr. Christine Ena Carado