For the first time, researchers created what they call Alzheimer s in a Dish human brain cells that develop defining Alzheimer s structures in a petri dish. This incredible achievement could redefine how Alzheimer s and potential treatment drugs are studied. Until now, researchers were only able to use mice that developed an imperfect form of the disease.
Researchers led by Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi and Dr. Doo Yeon Kim of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and colleagues grew human embryonic stem cells treated with a mixture of chemicals to form neurons. The neurons were then given Alzheimer s genes. Soon enough, the researchers saw plaques develop, then tangles. Both structures are defining features of the neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Tanzi explains, It looks like you are looking at an Alzheimer brain. The research was published in Nature.
While this breakthrough research is a giant step forward in the field, there are still limitations to the model. First, a petri dish is not a brain, and it lacks features including immune cells that are suspected to contribute to Alzheimer s. Just because an Alzheimer s drug seems to succeed in treating the disease in the dish, does not necessarily mean the drug will also treat Alzheimer s in humans. However, Alzheimer s in a dish is a quick, cheap, and easy way to conduct early tests on Alzheimer s drugs. Dr. Tanzi is currently planning to test over 1,000 Alzheimer s drugs on the market and 5,000 experimental drugs using the model a project that could not be accomplished with mice.
Alzheimer s is the most common form of dementia. Although there are treatments for symptoms, there is currently no cure for the neurodegenerative disorder. The research of Dr. Tanzi and colleagues has the potential to accelerate the process of finding effective treatments for the disease.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross says, Early detection of AD is highly sought by medical researchers because it can lead to better monitoring of the disease and new therapies. However, questions arise as to what the implications would be should we learn how to detect Alzheimer s disease in the absence of effective treatment. Although this study is very preliminary, it is a very early step in working to find a treatment for this debilitating condition and further illustrates the potential of using embryonic stem cells as treatments for a range of diseases.