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Aging Mental Health

Can Stem Cells Prevent Alzheimer’s?

New research into rejuvenative medicine has found that stem cells may provide a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia.

The research is led by Michael Bonaguidi, an Assistant Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Gerontology, and Biomedical Engineering at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Bonaguidi and his team are looking at the biological aging of neural stem cells, the stem cells of the nervous system. These are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of time, contributing to normal age-related cognitive decline, as well as to Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers discovered that these neural stem cells age more rapidly than other cells in the body.

“There is chronological aging, and there is biological aging, and they are not the same thing,” said Bonaguidi. “We’re interested in the biological aging of neural stem cells, which are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of time. This has implications for the normal cognitive decline that most of us experience as we grow older, as well as for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and brain injury.”

Bonaguidi is looking at a drug that is already used in chemotherapy that seems to increase the survivability of these critical neural stem cells. The drug, known as Imatinib, encourages neural stem cells to divide more.

Looking at gene maps of mice of varying ages, Bonaguidi’s team was able to identify a single gene – Abl1 that was largely responsible for creating a protein that shortened the lifespan of the neural stem cells. The drug seems to inhibit the action of the Abl1 gene, and in effect, causes the neural stem cells to live longer and divide more often, creating a net gain of such cells. They observed that the new cells particularly proliferated in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Further studies seek to induce these stem cells to make more new neurons and demonstrate that these additional neurons improve learning and memory.

“We’ve succeeded in getting neural stem cells to divide more without depleting, and that’s step one,” said Bonaguidi. “Step two will be to induce these stem cells to make more neurons. Step three will be to demonstrate that these additional neurons actually improve learning and memory. Much work remains to be done, but this study marks exciting progress towards our goal of identifying prescription drugs that could rejuvenate our brains as we grow older.”

The research was published in April of 2021 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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