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Growing Alzheimer's Brain Cells for Research

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerOctober 15, 2014

Two neuroscientists have successfully developed Alzheimer’s disease outside of the brain, which will hopefully allow more treatment drugs to be tested and researched without the involvement of human participants.

Learn more about this study and what it means for the future of Alzheimer’s research.

Growing Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s reaches epidemic proportions and the medical community despairs over the lack of a cure, two neuroscientists are bringing new hope to the fight against the disease. Neuroscientists Rudolph E. Tanzi and Doo Yeon Kim, both of Massachussetts General Hospital in Boston, grew human brain cells in a gel, gave those brain cells genes for Alzheimer’s, then watched as the cells began developing the hallmark features of the disease.

Researchers used embryonic stem cells and grew them with other chemicals that turned them into brain cells, called neurons. When they gave the neurons genes known to cause Alzheimer’s they watched them grow.

Dr. Tanzi said:

“Sure enough, we saw plaques, real plaques. We waited, and then we saw tangles, actual tangles. It looks like you are looking at an Alzheimer brain.”

Findings Have Far-Reaching Implications for Alzheimer’s Research

This is the first time ever that Alzheimer’s has been replicated and could be a game-changer for the future of Alzheimer’s research. Dr. Tanzi is using these findings to launch a new project that will test 1,200 drugs that are currently on the market as well as 5,000 experimental drugs. Dr. Tanzi says that they will be able to “test hundreds of thousands of drugs in a matter of months.”

This can also help other researchers study the effects of genetics on Alzheimer’s, specifically how ApoE4 contributes to the development of the disease. 

The study also provides strong support to the amyloid hypothesis, one many researchers have started to question after drugs targeting the beta amyloid protein failed. However, when growing Alzheimer’s in this study, researchers noticed that the tangles in the brain formed with nothing other than the presence of amyloid.

Do you think this groundbreaking study will impact future drug trials? How do you feel about the new finding? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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