Concise Review: Can Stem Cells be Used to Treat or Model Alzheimer’s Disease?†‡§

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the leading cause of age-related dementia, affecting over 5 million people in the U.S. alone. AD patients suffer from progressive neurodegeneration that gradually impairs their memory, ability to learn, and carry out daily activities. Unfortunately, current therapies for AD are largely palliative and several promising drug candidates have failed in recent clinical trials. There is therefore an urgent need to improve our understanding of AD pathogenesis, create innovative and predictive models, and develop new and effective therapies. In this review, we will discuss the potential of stem cells to aid in these challenging endeavors. Because of the widespread nature of AD pathology, cell-replacement strategies have been viewed as an incredibly challenging and unlikely results approach. Yet recent work shows that transplantation of neural stem cells (NSCs) can improve cognition, reduce neuronal loss, and enhance synaptic plasticity in animal models of AD. Interestingly, the mechanisms that mediate these effects appear to involve neuroprotection and trophic support rather than neuronal replacement. Stem cells may also offer a powerful new approach to model and study AD. Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells, for example, may help to advance our understanding of disease mechanisms. Likewise, studies of human embryonic and NSCs are helping to decipher the normal functions of AD-related genes; revealing intriguing roles in neural development. STEM CELLS 2012;30:2612–2618


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