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Prevention of Age-Related Brain Loss with Stem Cells

Scoop Independent News, November 28, 2007

In advanced aging, a cognitive decline is typically observed as the years go by. But scientists may have an answer for this dilemma as stem cell research has found a novel approach to slow and possibly prevent this phenomenon.

Giving rise to new nerve cells every single day, the adult brain contains highly "regenerative" stem cells. As the brain ages, the number of stem/progenitor cells and their progeny decline dramatically according to previous studies. The number of stem cells we have in old age could be preserved in by boosting the number of stem cells when we are young or middle aged according to Dr. Rietze and his team.

The number of stem cells typically found in the brain is increased by using two separate approaches. Stimulating resident stem cells to divide and increase in number, the first approach used by Dr. Rietze and his team involves performing an acute infusion of growth hormone directly into the brain. These results indicate that a new target for stem cell-related treatments may be growth hormone, which may also play an integral role in regulating brain stem cells.

“The idea here is to increase the number of stem cells in young and middle-aged mice,” Dr. Rietze said.

“The greater the complement of stem cells, the greater capacity we have to maintain and regenerate the brain as we age.”

Restoring the number of stem cells in aged mice is the second approach. In both young and aged mice, age-related memory loss has been slowed and even prevented as demonstrated in published studies. Physical exercise and exposure to an enriched environment can increase the number of new nerve cells in the hippocampus (part of the brain important for learning and memory) as well.

“We have found that physical exercise in aged mice is as effective as growth hormone in young mice, in increasing resident stem cell numbers”.

“This is an exciting breakthrough which is consistent other published data showing that a physically and intellectually ‘active’ life may prevent or delay age-related conditions and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Rietze said.

Following the announcement of the 2008 Fellowship winners at the annual Pfizer Australia Fellowship awards evening held in Sydney at the Sheraton on the Park, Dr. Rietze presented his research.

A $1 Million Fellowship grant from Pfizer Australia has funded the majority of the Project.

Australian medical researchers and clinicians must prove their exceptional capability in scientific discovery to an independent panel of scientific and medical experts in order to receive a Fellowship. All aspects of the proposed research project, as well as a salary, are provided by a five-year grant if the applicant is successful in his Fellowship request.

Dr. Dan Grant from Pfizer Australia’s medical department said: “Our ongoing commitment to advancing Australian medical research lies behind these bright innovative scientists who we believe can make significant contributions to Australian research and in the long run, may provide the answer to many worldwide diseases.”


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