A cocktail of drugs that replaces lost brain cells could restore memories in Alzheimer’s patients and reduce tremors in Parkinson’s sufferers, new research suggests.
Just eight weeks after being injected into the brains of mice, the medication mixture causes up to 90 per cent of ‘support cells’ to turn into neurons without any side effects, a Chinese study found.
Neurons are nerve cells that carry information as electrical signals. They are the main cell type broken down in Alzheimer’s, which causes memory loss, and Parkinson’s disease, which leads to tremors.
Although exciting, some experts doubt whether the drug cocktail will be able to replace the hundreds of thousands of brain cells lost as a result of Parkinson’s.
Excessive neurone production may also trigger conditions such as epilepsy, they warn.
A cocktail of drugs that replaces lost brain cells could restore memories in Alzheimer’s (stock)
IS THERE A PILL FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
A breakthrough Alzheimer’s drug edges scientists one step closer to a cure, new research suggested in November 2017.
Taken twice a day, a tablet, known as LMTX, significantly improves dementia sufferers’ brain injuries to the extent their MRI scans resemble those of healthy people after just nine months, a study found.
Lead author Professor Gordon Wilcock from the University of Oxford told MailOnline: ‘I haven’t seen such brain injury recovery before after a drug treatment.’
LMTX, which is under investigation, also significantly improves patients’ abilities to carry out everyday tasks such as bathing and dressing themselves, while also boosting their capabilities to correctly name objects and remember the date, the research adds.
The drug contains a chemical that dissolves protein ‘tangles’ in the brain that clump together to form plaques in the region associated with memory, according to its manufacturer TauRx Pharmaceuticals.
Dissolving these tangles and preventing the formation of new plaques may slow or even halt memory loss in dementia sufferers, the pharma company adds.
The researchers, from the universities of Oxford and Aberdeen, analysed 800 Alzheimer’s patients across 12 countries.
The study’s participants received either 100mg or 4mg LMTX tablets twice a day for 18 months.
They were tested on their ability to name objects, follow commands such as ‘make a fist’, recall items from a list of 10 and identify their name, the time and date.
Their ability to eat without help, use a telephone, wash and dress themselves, and control their bowel and bladder was also assessed.
MRI scans monitored the participants’ brain injury.
‘It would be a huge step forward’
Dr Matthew Grubb, from King’s College London, who was not involved in the study, told the New Scientist: ‘If it holds up it’s absolutely amazing, and has a lot of potential applications and exciting consequences.
‘If you’ve got a degenerating brain, for example in Alzheimer’s disease, and you could get the brain to regrow neurons itself, it would be a huge step forward.’
As well as safety concerns, some experts doubt the treatment could restore lost memories but add it may enable dementia patients to make new ones.
Scientists not involved in the study also believe very specific cells will need to be targeted due to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s having different causes.
Up to 90% of cells transformed
The researchers, from Peking University, injected the brains of mice with a cocktail of drugs. It is unclear what the medications were.
Around eight weeks later, the scientists analysed slices of the rodents’ brains.
Results suggest between 80 and 90 per cent of the astrocytes at the injection sites started to resemble neurones.
Astrocytes are star-shaped cells in the central nervous system that support neurones.
This astrocyte change involved an alteration in the cells’ shapes, genetic activities and electrical signalling.
The researchers are planning to investigate the effects of the drug cocktail on the recovery of mice that have suffered a stroke.
Insomnia causes the brain to ‘eat itself’ and may lead to Alzheimer’s
This comes after research released earlier this month suggested insomnia causes the brain to ‘eat itself’.
Sleep is important to clear away brain cell ‘wear and tear’, however, a study found insufficient shut eye causes the system to go into overdrive and also remove healthy nerve cells.
Study author Dr Michele Bellesi, from Marche Polytechnic University, Ancona, Italy, said: ‘We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss.’
Synapses allow nerve impulses to be communicated between cells, while astrocytes ‘clean’ the brain.