Now That’s Using Your Head

January 9, 2014 | By Lorenzo Mejia

If you follow dementia related news, you soon realize that the articles coming out on a daily basis are very much the same.  Dementia is reaching epidemic proportions, and there is no cure.

A recent announcement from the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute, in partnership with Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), offers  cause for real excitement.

For the first time, researchers have created living brain cells from the brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer’s patients.   A major challenge with Alzheimer’s is that a definitive diagnosis cannot be made until the brain is dissected post-mortem.  It’s the presence of specific protein tangles that confirm the existence of Alzheimer’s disease.

With this breakthrough, scientists now can create living, “reconstructed” brain cells with Alzheimer’s that allow them to observe cells long before a diagnosis typically would be made in a living patient.  They will be able to observe the onset and progression of the disease at a cellular level before symptoms would normally become apparent.  They will have the opportunity to evaluate drugs on cells they know to have the disease.

When tissues are frozen for future research, freezing temperatures may damage them, and make them less useful for scientific analysis.  A special treatment of the tissue before storage, called cryprotection, is needed.  Unfortunately, for different reasons, thousands of brain tissue samples currently in storage were not cryoprotected.

The unique aspect of this breakthrough is that the researchers created the cells from brain tissue that had been frozen in storage for many years without cryoprotection.  Scientists may now access a much greater pool of tissue held at various brain banks.  They have the opportunity to advance research on brain tissue known to have specific variants of Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders.

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