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Stem Cell Can Help

Alzheimer's Disease

CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand Alzheimer's disease and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.


Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain disease that causes dementia, which impairs people's ability to think, reason and remember things. More than five million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. today. Those people generally live much shorter lives and their medical expenses, combined with lost income for both them and their caregivers, is approximately $236 billion a year as of 2016. Alzheimer’s disease is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. There are no drugs to treat the disease, although some do relieve symptoms.

The exact causes of Alzheimer's disease are unknown, however scientists believe that genetic risk factors make up 70% of Alzheimer's case. One problem that has slowed new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease is the fact that no animal model truly mimics the disease. Drugs that have effectively treated animals with a form of Alzheimer’s haven’t worked in humans. What that means is that we need a better way of finding new drugs. CIRM funds several awards to researchers who are creating stem cell models of the disease in a lab dish using cells from Alzheimer’s patients. They can then test drugs on nerve cells derived from the stem cells of Alzheimer’s patients to look for ones that eliminate symptoms of the disease. These models are the only way of testing drugs in actual human cells.

The agency also funds teams that are in the early stages of developing potential therapies using stem cells. Some groups are trying to mature embryonic stem cells into a cell type that can be transplanted into the brain to replace cells that are destroyed in the disease. Others are simply using stem cells as a way of delivering factors that appear to protect brain cells. One team is trying to use stem cells to clear out the protein that builds up and clogs neurons in Alzheimer’s patients.

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