You might notice a preponderance of people wearing purple this month. That’s because it’s the signature color of the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Go Purple” initiative to raise awareness about the devastating effects of the disease. Discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906, the disease is defined by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) as “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.” It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s, and that it may rank as the third most common cause of death for older people, superseded only by cancer and heart disease.
“But what does the research say? Does enough of it exist to make an informed decision about the safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of allogeneic stem cell therapy?”
While scientists continue to research the causes and changes that occur in the brain with the onset and progression of the disease, there is some consensus that damage to the brain starts a decade or more before problems with memory and other cognitive deficits surface. Amyloid plaques (sticky protein buildup which accumulates outside neurons) and tau tangles (tangled bundles of nerve fibers) form throughout the brain. Those neurons stop functioning, lose their connections with other neurons, and eventually die. By the final stages of Alzheimer’s, there is significant shrinking of brain tissue, with a large amount of damage occurring to the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.
While there is no cure, nor any treatments that can slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a number of clinical trials are currently underway to not only develop more advanced ways to treat the effects, but to modify the course of the disease in its earliest stages. One of the more recent, but less well-researched, interventions is the use of allogeneic stem cell therapy. Allogeneic stem cells are harvested from another patient. The cells are introduced into the brain where it is hoped that they can convert to functional neurons. But what does the research say? Does enough of it exist to make an informed decision about the safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of allogeneic stem cell therapy?
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