In recognition of June being designated as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I thought we’d talk a bit about Alzheimer’s Disease and how autologous stem cell treatments are showing promising signs to help people recover from this neurodegenerative disorder.
What is Alzheimer’s?
As most of you probably know, Alzheimer’s is associated with memory loss and difficulty with cognitive functions of the body. It’s often referred to as an adverse form of dementia that can progressively worsen due to the death or degeneration of neurons.
How Prevalent is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a very common form of dementia. In 2013, six million people were affected by the disease in the U.S. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, has estimated a 50 percent rise in the number of people affected by the disease over the age of 65 every five years. Younger people are less prone to Alzheimer’s. Males are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than females. Alzheimer’s has been ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Factors Responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientists are working hard to get clarification about Alzheimer’s. So far, it’s clear that the disease develops due to multiple factors rather than any single cause. Age and genetics play a major role in disease manifestations, although much research is needed to understand other factors which contribute to its development.
The greatest risk factor for the disease is the increasing age of a person. It’s suggested that the risk of developing the disease increases or doubles every five years. Another risk factor is family history. If there are Alzheimer’s patients in your family, there’s an increased risk of developing the disease.
Symptoms Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease
In progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s, initially mild versions of symptoms are expressed which are generally ignored until they worsen and interfere with daily life. No two Alzheimer cases are alike; their experiences with the symptoms can differ drastically. The most typical symptoms are memory lapses due to early damage of the brain in the hippocampus region, which plays a central role in day to day memory.
Memory loss increasingly interferes with daily life as the condition progresses. The person may:
- Lose items around the house.
- Struggle to find the right words in a conversation or forget somebody’s name.
- Forget about the recent conversation, event, situation, etc.
- Get lost in familiar places or journeys.
What Goes Wrong in Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is named after the scientist Alois Alzheimer. It involves progressive damage of neurons leading to death. Post mortem analysis of the brain has revealed that nerve tissue has many tiny inclusions of proteins known as plaques and tangles, which interfere with the signaling mechanism of the brain, leading to damage of brain cells. Plaques have been observed in-between the dying cells of the brain from the accumulation of protein known as the beta amyloid proteins. There’s also reported disintegration of another protein, the tau protein, resulting in deposition of tangles between the axonal regions of the brain cells.
These depositions can delay or halt the signaling process of the brain between brain cells. Due to loss of work, neurons may become damaged or weak. The disease may progressively lead to the loss of neurons, leading to shrinkage of the total brain.
Stem Cell Treatments
There’s been a lot of attention paid to stem cell treatments and their role in helping people with Alzheimer’s restore memory and lost functions. GIOSTAR, the Global Institute of Stem Cell Therapy and Research (giostar.com) reported a 50% recovery rate among 4 Alzheimer’s patients two years after their autologous stem cell transplants. Autologous stem cells are cells from the patient’s own body. These are not to be confused with embryonic stem cells. In rare cases, the stem cells may come from another family member, such as a brother or sister or a donor.
Stem cells serve as the body’s primary internal repair system and can divide to replenish other cells. Stem cells have the remarkable ability to differentiate into whatever cell type needed to fix the problem. When healthy cells are introduced into the injured or infected area, they turn on and augment the body’s own repair mechanism.
Alzheimer’s is one of many degenerative diseases for which regenerative medicine using autologous stem cell therapy is proving to be worthwhile. More studies and treatments are needed but clinical trials to date have shown promising results.