Dementia is caused through a disruption of mental processes which may be caused by brain disease or injury. It is characterised by a decline in mental ability and, as it advances, is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Impaired reasoning, personality changes and memory disorders (including memory loss) are common features of the condition.
While Alzheimer’s disease is acknowledged as the most common cause of Dementia, it is by no means the only one. Dementia affects different parts of the brain and the symptoms displayed will depend on the specific part of the brain damaged and the exact cause or disease responsible for the condition.
Early stage Dementia
Early stage Dementia can vary widely from person to person in terms of the symptoms displayed. There are different types of Dementia that may be categorised depending on the cause. Generally speaking persons with Dementia will experience memory loss related to recent events. They will also experience difficulty in the daily mental multi-tasking exercise that we take for granted: concentrating, organising and planning acquire a level of complexity quite out of proportion to the task at hand, for instance preparing a meal or making a bed.
Orientation too, becomes a major challenge for people with Dementia. Such people become easily confused as to their whereabouts and may lose track of days and dates. The disruption in the mental processes also interferes with language skills and locating the right word or following a conversation to its logical conclusion become an increasingly difficult chore.
Hope in treating this heartbreaking condition has however been rekindled as scientists have identified potential dementia treatment target using Stem Cell research. Using stem cells with a mutation that causes Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), the researchers were able to establish that these stem cells were less likely to develop into cortical neurons than stem cells without the mutation. Using this model the researchers were able to identify the processes inside the cell which malfunction and to target them for possible treatment.
This research focused on the stem cells’ ability to become cortical neurons, which is the type of brain cell that is most affected in FTD. Inserting a healthy copy of the gene reversed the progranulin mutation, correcting it. Progranulin is a protein that instructs certain cells on how to grow and develop. The scientists also found that a signaling pathway called Wnt is particularly active when compared to stem cells without the progranulin mutation. This pathway was also tagged as a future therapeutic target.
This is a significant step towards finding a cure as FTD is rated third among the leading causes of dementia for people under the age of 65 years. The Alzheimer’s Society acknowledges that FTD has currently no effective treatment. FTD has a very high likelihood of being inherited with 40% of patients showing a family history of the same.
This research shows that the FTD in many patients is associated with a mutation in the patient’s stem cells where those stem cells are less likely to differentiate and make new neurons. Therefore the transplantation of exogenous healthy stem cells may produce improvements in those patients. Stem cells provide continuous support to aged and degenerating neurons and can significantly halt the degenerative process.
H/T: Pharmaceutical Journal