The form of dementia that accounts for 50 percent of all the dementia cases that develop in people that are over the age of 60 can be reversed with a newly discovered stem cell technique. Catherine Verfaillie and colleagues at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium are the first to develop a working preventative for dementia by modeling dementia in a Petri dish.
The most prevalent form of dementia develops in the neurons of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The researchers found that the majority of the deterioration of nerve cells that produce dementia result from a natural mutation of the gene called progranulin. Progranulin inhibits the normal replenishment of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes that leads to the symptoms of dementia including forgetfulness and behavioral changes. The growing new nerve cells are not allowed to mature normally due to the mutation in the gene.
The researchers created new nerve cells using induced pluripotent stem cell technology. The technique replicated the chemical events that lead to dementia that originates in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain. The researchers also developed a method to inhibit the mutation of progranulin and reverse the development of dementia at a cellular level.
The technique offers new insight into the cause of dementia and a potential new treatment for dementia and related diseases. Previously, research was limited by the use of mice as test subjects but the mouse brain does not exhibit the same chemistry as the human brain. The study shows that new normal nerve cells can be grown from skin cells and introduced into the brain preventing the deterioration that is caused by dementia.