Growth of cells offers dementia hope
Cells used to study "dementia in a dish" have led scientists to a potential new treatment strategy for an inherited form of the brain disease.
Defective stem cells grown in the lab revealed a signalling pathway linked to frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which accounts for about half of dementia cases before the age of 60.
Treatment with a drug that suppressed the pathway, known as "Wnt", restored the ability of neurons affected by the disease to develop normally.
Professor Philip Van Damme, from the Leuven Research Institute for Neuroscience and Disease in Belgium, said: "Our findings suggest that signaling events required for neurodevelopment may also play major roles in neuro-degeneration.
"Targeting such pathways, as for instance the Wnt pathway, presented in this study, may result in the creation of novel therapeutic approaches for frontotemporal dementia."
Instead of relying on animal tests, the new research involved creating human cells in a laboratory dish.
The scientists reprogrammed skin cells from three dementia patients to create a special type of stem cells which are in an immature state but mimic stem cells taken from early-stage embryos.
Like embryonic stem cells, they have the potential to become any kind of body tissue. The aim is to recreate damaged neurons in the laboratory and find possible drugs to treat them.