Alzheimer’s Disease and Stem Cell Medicine
About Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease, frequently referred to simply as “Alzheimer’s”, is a progressive neurological condition that is the most common cause of dementia. It’s important to understand the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by brain atrophy (shrinking) and the death of brain cells. This leads to dementia, which is a common term for memory loss and the decline of other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life.
While Alzheimer’s is frequently associated with aging (and most people with Alzheimer’s are above the age of 65), there are currently more than 200,000 people under the age of 65 with the condition. This is known as younger-onset or early-onset Alzheimer’s.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, although treatments exist to help address symptoms of the conditions. As symptoms become worse over time, the condition eventually becomes fatal, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Why Are Stem Cells Being Considered for Treatments
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, but we do know that two types of abnormal brain structures are present in people with Alzheimer’s: amyloid-beta (Aß) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Both involve proteins building up around different types of brain cells, impeding their function and eventually leading to the death of the cell. It is also known that some of these proteins serve important roles in healthy brains, and in the case of Alzheimer’s patients, build up unhealthily over time.
The majority of clinical trials are utilizing mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for a number of reasons. One of the most important is that they are comparatively easy to use safely, giving them flexibility in the trial phase. MSCs are also multipotent – meaning they can become many different types of cell, including brain cells – and have anti-inflammatory properties that have led to their wide range of clinical trial applications, as they have the potential to treat many different types of conditions. MSCs can be found in the umbilical cord and placental tissue, as well as bone marrow and adipose tissue.
How Can Stem Cells Help Alzheimer’s Disease
There are many advanced clinical trials seeking to treat Alz2eimer’s with MSCs. Two recent trials, one from Medipost Co.1 and another from Nature Cell6, have recently been completed. Although full results have not yet been published, there have been no reports of adverse outcomes, an important sign in establishing the safety of these treatments.
Aside from seeking to establish safety, these trials are also measuring for cognitive improvements utilizing a number of exams, including those testing for basic cognitive function and tests seeking to measure practical, daily life capabilities.
Active trials are also still underway. One, sponsored by cell-based therapy company Longeveron3, is no longer recruiting new patients, but is actively treating Alzheimer’s patients with MSCs. The double-blinded study is using lower and higher doses of MSCs, as well as placebo treatments, to assess both safety and efficacy of the therapy.
And a trial from Stemedica Cell Technologies4 is underway and still recruiting new patients* who want to participate in the trial. This trial is also testing a mesenchymal stem cell therapy versus a placebo to determine safety and efficacy. Treatments are expected to end in late 2022, with potential cognitive improvements documented when the study is concluded in mid-2023.
What’s the Takeaway?
Like all conditions in the early trial phase, it’s difficult to know if a viable treatment will be discovered. But there is a reason that researchers are using these specific stem cells, and the potential breakthroughs would have enormous implications for the treatment of an incredibly common, very serious condition.
* Clinical trial still recruiting at time of publication.
- Safety and Exploratory Efficacy Study of NEUROSTEM® Versus Placebo in Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease (2020), clinicaltrials.gov.
- A Study to Evaluate the Safety and Efficacy of AstroStem in Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease (2021), clinicaltrials.gov.
- Allogeneic Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Infusion Versus Placebo in Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease (2021), clinicaltrials.gov.
- Allogeneic Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells for Alzheimer’s Disease (2020), clinicaltrials.gov.
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