By Linda J Bruton
When Ronald Reagan was dying of Alzheimer’s disease, Nancy Reagan became interested in stem cell research and its potential for treating Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, there has been a continuing growing voice of supporters on this issue.
Ronald Reagan’s death from Alzheimer’s disease increased the support for human embryonic stem cell research. This research requires the destruction of human embryos. Many supporters of stem cell research believe that the transplants of show great potential for curing certain diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes. Medical researchers believe that someday, embryo cell studies may lead to insights into Alzheimer’s.
Most proponents of stem cell research felt that if nothing else, stem cells bearing the genetic hallmarks of Alzheimer’s might help scientists assess the potential usefulness of new drugs. But few scientist feel there is a direct benefit for Alzheimer’s from stem cell therapy.
The overall consensus of scientist and researchers is that stem cell transplant therapy does not sound like a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s. There is an obvious lack of genuine enthusiasm surrounding stem cell therapy as having any practical potential to treat Alzheimer’s.
The basis of the stem cell research focuses on human embryonic stem cells that can clone themselves into any kind of tissue. This amazing ability of these cells have led scientists to believe that these stem cells could be a “universal patch” to replace any injured or non-functioning organ.
“Some studies have suggested, for example, that stem cells injected into an injured heart can spur the development of healthy new heart muscle. Among the more promising targets of such “cellular therapies” would be Parkinson’s disease.
However Parkinson’s disease affects only a small and specialized population of brain cells. Other uses for stem cell therapy might be Type-1 Diabetes, which is caused by the loss of discrete insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
The most promising use for stem cell therapy could be for spinal cord injuries in which a few crucial nerve cells die, such as the injury that paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve. But in the case of Alzheimer’s, the requirement for the recreation of brain cells is too complex.
However, promising this research might sound for Alzheimer’s, the medical community views the results of an Alzheimer’s cure from stem cell therapy as a “fairy tale”
“To start with, people need a fairy tale,” said Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand.” Other researchers consider it disingenuous to talk about Alzheimer’s in connection with stem cell research.
Stem cell experts admit that there are diseases that may one day be cured by embryonic stem cell treatments, but these expert state that Alzheimer’s is among the least likely disease to benefit from this therapy.
I think the chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer’s brains by putting in stem cells is small,” said stem cell researcher Michael Shelanski, co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s disease and the Aging Brain at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, echoing many other experts. “I personally think we’re going to get other therapies for Alzheimer’s a lot sooner.”
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