Adult stem cells could offer Alzheimer’s hope

Scientists in America say they have come one step closer to treating Alzheimer’s disease by using adult stem cells.

Researchers at the University of California in Irvine successfully used injections of neural stem cells to repair damaged brain cells.

Although the experiment was only done on mice, the researchers are confident that the technique may one day be used on humans to restore memory lost during the late stages of Alzheimer’s.

Doctor Frank LaFerla, Director of the University’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, said there is “a lot of hope” that the findings could lead to “a useful treatment for Alzheimer’s”.

More than 500,000 people in Britain suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is currently no cure. This figure is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years as the population ages.

Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This is an interesting and novel study which will help researchers develop a better understanding of how stem cell therapy might help in the fight against dementia.”

Adult stem cells, taken from sources such as bone marrow and cord blood, have now been successfully used to treat well over 70 medical conditions.

Last year a woman was given a new windpipe grown from her own stem cells in an advance which scientists said heralded “a new age in surgical care”.

Despite advances using adult stem cells, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed last year liberalising the law governing scientists’ use of the controversial embryonic stem cells.

However, many scientists consider this branch of research, in which human embryos are destroyed by the process of harvesting stem cells, to be far less promising.

In 2008 scientist Colin McGuckin left his position as professor of regenerative medicine at Newcastle University because he said the Government was failing to fund adult stem cell research.

He told the Times Higher Education: “A vast amount of money in the UK from the Government has gone into embryonic stem-cell research with not one patient having being treated, to the detriment of (research into) adult stem cells, which has been severely underfunded.”

Prof McGuckin added: “You would barely know that adult stem cells exist”.