Dementia Reversed with Stem Cells
By Clair Weaver, Sunday Mail, December 2, 2007
By restoring the decaying brain cells of a 65-year-old to the levels of an 18-year-old, Australian scientists believe they have cracked the code to preventing dementia.
Dementia is a group of degenerative brain disorders that includes Alzheimer's disease. More than 200,000 Australians suffer from these conditions, but new hope may be on the way in the form of breakthroughs which were presented to pharmaceutical chiefs at a closed event last week.
Facilitating the boost of mental functions such as understanding and memory, the scientists have developed two ways to stimulate stem cells and regenerate the brain.
Increasing the number of stem cells in young and middle-aged brains could help stave off dementia according to leading stem cell scientist Dr. Rod Rietze and his team at the University of Queensland.
"The idea is not to transplant anything – but to stimulate what we have got," Dr. Rietze said.
"The job of the stem cell is to do two things: keep the body functioning and regenerate the tissue."
"It makes sense that if you increase the regenerative cells, the brain lasts longer."
Dementia is a major health burden, costing more than $1.4 billion per year – a figure that is expected to blow out due to a rapidly ageing population and longer life expectancies.
Brain function deteriorates with the rapid decrease of the number of stem cells in the brain as people age.
Injecting growth hormones directly into the brains of mice is Dr. Rietze's first approach to turning back the aging clock.
In order to trigger stem cells to multiply naturally and improve brain function, the second approach involves using physical exercise on a treadmill.
"When people do regular exercise, they age better," Dr. Rietze said. "There is a correlative relationship."
With the potential to restore stem cell levels of a 65-year-old back to that of an 18-year-old, Dr. Rietze and his team believe sustained physical activity may prevent or delay the onset of age-related dementia as much as injecting growth hormones.
The work has been submitted to international medical journals by the scientist who funded his team's radical research with a $1 million Pfizer Fellowship he won in 2004.
"I think really the next step is to design treatment strategies, and the prevention of diseases," he said.