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Scientists Use Stem Cells, Skin Cells to Create Brain Cells Lost to Alzheimer's
Date:3/6/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- In what experts are calling a significant step forward in Alzheimer's research, scientists have for the first time turned human embryonic stem cells and a form of human skin cell into a type of brain cell that's lost to Alzheimer's disease.

The disease-induced destruction of these cells, which are called "basal forebrain cholinergic" (BFC) neurons, is key to the progression of Alzheimer's. Their death, say researchers, leads to memory-retrieval problems, one of the most disabling aspects of the illness. Similarly, BFC loss also impairs spatial learning.

But the new study suggests that scientists could someday create a virtually unlimited supply of these neurons in a laboratory setting. This should help deepen scientific research into Alzheimer's by allowing the scientists to rapidly test thousands of different drugs on the neurons to see which drugs keep them alive under various conditions -- research that could enhance the development of new drugs against the disease.

Much further in the future, but possible, is the notion of transplanting healthy, lab-grown neurons back into the brains of Alzheimer's patients as treatment.

"I like to be very cautious, and not tell people that now we have a treatment for Alzheimer's," noted co-author Dr. John A. Kessler from the department of neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "But now we can actually make human cells that are exactly the kind of groups of neurons that play a central role in memory and seem to die very early on in the onset of Alzheimer's."

"Now, Alzheimer's is a disease that's not going to be treated and cured by any one magic bullet," he cautioned. "But I can tell you that without actually having these cells available we can't even begin to think about a treatment. So what this does is enable us to start trying to find ways to
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