Rethinking Healthcare

Stem cells can restore memory

Posting in Science

Using human stem cells, a California biotech has restored memory in rodents who have an Alzheimer's-like condition. Clinical trials with these cells in humans are underway.

Using human stem cells, one biotech has restored memory in rodents bred to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition.

California-based StemCells Inc. hopes this will lead to a clinical trial with human patients with Alzheimer's. This is the first time human stem cells have been shown to improve memory.

They focused their efforts on the hippocampus, responsible for learning and memory. They injected human stem cells in both sides of the brain. A month later, io9 explains, they reinvestigated the memory capabilities of these mice, comparing their performances to their previous levels, and those of a control group.

The animals that received stem cells performed as well as mice without any previous neural pathology.

The researchers speculate that the stem cells alleviated the detrimental effects of protein build-up, which cause the brain to lose connections between neurons. The mice that received stem cells had 75 percent more synapses between connections.

The company prepares their stem cells using fetal brain tissue from donated aborted fetal tissue. This neuronal stem-cell product has already shown potential to protect vision in diseased eyes, act as brain support cells, or improve walking ability in rodents with spinal cord injury. Technology Review reports:

  • In 2006, the company implanted up to a billion of these stem cells into the brains of patients with a neurological disorder called Batten.
  • In another small trial, children with a genetic disease that prevents their brains from producing the sheath on neurons received the cellular treatment.
  • In 2011, spinal-cord injury patients received a transplant of 20 million stem cells directly into the spinal cord. Patients reported changes in their sensitivity to touch.
  • Last month, StemCells announced the beginning of a trial for dry age-related macular degeneration, a disease that gradually destroys vision; there are currently no FDA-approved treatments.

"Now we are really in the exciting phase, because now we are looking at human clinical data, as opposed to just small animals," says StemCells CEO Martin McGlynn.

It might work in animals, but when you get to clinical trials for people…

The work was presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2012 earlier this month. The company announced the results last week.

[Via Technology Review, io9]

Image: StemCells

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure