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article image‘Alzheimer’s in a Dish’ a breakthrough in search for cure

By Martin Laine     Oct 13, 2014 in Science
Scientists have succeeded in replicating human brain cells with typical Alzheimer’s Disease structures. Up to now, researchers searching for a treatment have had to work with mouse brains, an imperfect and unsatisfactory substitute.
A team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston started with embryonic stem cells and developed them into neurons — nerve cells that are the main component of the brain, according to an article in the Boston Globe. They then added Alzheimer’s genes into the neurons, and placed them in a gel in a petri dish.
Earlier experiments tried a similar method in a liquid, and while plaques formed, the tangles did not.
The neurons soon developed the plaque and tangled coils that signify Alzheimer’s in the human brain.
“Sure enough, we saw plaques, real plaques,” said lead researcher Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi. “We waited, and then we saw tangles, actual tangles. It looks like you’re looking at an Alzheimer’s brain.”
Their findings were published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.
It was soon hailed as a major breakthrough by other researchers in the field.
“It is a giant step forward for the field,” said Prof. P. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University. “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates.”
Dr. Sam Gandy of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York, called it “a real game changer. I’m enthusiastic to take a crack at this in my lab.”
Tanzi said his team has already used this new method to study the effect of drugs that are meant to prevent the formation of amyloid, a protein that clumps into plaque. He found that in the petri dish, they prevented both the plaque and tangles.
One had already been tested on humans, but was found to be too toxic. The others are still in clinical trials.
The next step for the researchers, Tanzi said, is to test some 1,200 drugs on the market, and another 5,000 still in the experimental stage. The petri dish method will be a lot faster than testing in mice — which takes a year. With the petri dishes “we can test hundreds of thousands of drugs in a matter of months.”
More about Alzheimers Disease, Neurons, Stem cells
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