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Scientists Discover A New Method To Fight Alzheimer’s, Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

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One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease. VOA
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Eliminating dead-but-toxic cells occurring naturally in the brains of mice designed to mimic Alzheimer’s slowed neuron damage and memory loss associated with the disease, according to a study published Wednesday that could open a new front in the fight against dementia.The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals.

Scientists have long known that these dead-beat cells gather in regions of the brain linked to old age diseases ranging from osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis to Parkinson’s and dementia.

Prior research had also shown that the elimination of senescent cells in ageing mice extended their healthy lifespan.

But the new results, published in Nature, are the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect link with a specific disease, Alzheimer’s, the scientists said.

Alzheimer's
A lady suffering from Alzheimer’s. Flickr

But any treatments that might emerge from the research are many years down the road, they cautioned.

In experiments, a team led by Tyler Bussian of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota used mice genetically modified to produce the destructive, cobweb-like tangles of tau protein that form in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients.

The mice were also programmed to allow for the elimination of “zombie” cells in the same region.

“When senescent cells were removed, we found that the diseased animals retained the ability to form memories, and eliminated signs of inflammation,” said senior author Darren Baker, also from the Mayo Clinic.

The mice likewise failed to develop Alzheimer’s signature protein “tangles”, and retained normal brain mass.

 

Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s disease patient Isidora Tomaz, 82, sits in an armchair in her house in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s predicted that by 2050, 135 million Americans are going to suffer from mild cognitive impairment, a precursor of Alzheimer’s. VOA

Keeping zombies at bay

A closer look revealed that the “zombies” belonged to a class of cells in the brain and spinal cord, called glia, that provide crucial support and insulation to neurons.

“Preventing the build-up of senescent glia can block the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration normally experienced by these mice,” Jay Penney and Li-Huei Tsai, both from MIT, wrote in a comment, also in Nature.

Bussian and his team duplicated the results with pharmaceuticals, suggesting that drugs could one day slow or block the emergence of Alzheimer’s by keeping these zombie cells at bay.

“There hasn’t been a new dementia drug in 15 years, so it’s exciting to see the results of this promising study in mice,” said James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society in London.

 

Alzheimer's
The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals. IANS

For Lawrence Rajendran, deputy director of the Dementia Research Institute at King’s College London, the findings “open up new vistas for both diagnosis and therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.”

Up to now, dementia research has been mostly focused on the diseased neurons rather than their neighboring cells.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that other brains cells play a defining role,” Rajendran added.

Several barriers remain before the breakthrough can be translated into a “safe, effective treatment in people,” Pickett and other said.

The elderly often have lots of harmless brain cells that look like the dangerous senescent cells a drug would target, so the molecule would have to be good at telling the two apart.

Also Read: Common Painkillers Triple Harmful Side Effects in Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

The number afflicted is expected to triple by 2050 to 152 million, according to the World Health Organization, posing a huge challenge to healthcare systems. (VOA)

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First Successful Case Of Womb Transplant in Brazil

In the Brazilian case, the recipient had been born without a uterus due to a condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. The donor was 45 and died of a stroke.

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Womb Transplant
Medical team hold the first baby born via uterus transplant from a deceased donor at the hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil. VOA

A woman in Brazil who received a womb transplanted from a deceased donor has given birth to a baby girl in the first successful case of its kind, doctors reported.

The case, published in The Lancet medical journal, involved connecting veins from the donor uterus with the recipient’s veins, as well as linking arteries, ligaments and vaginal canals.

It comes after 10 previously known cases of uterus transplants from deceased donors – in the United States, the Czech Republic and Turkey – failed to produce a live birth.

The girl born in the Brazilian case was delivered via caesarean section at 35 weeks and three days, and weighed 2,550 grams (nearly 6 lbs), the case study said.

Dani Ejzenberg, a doctor at Brazil’s Sao Paulo University hospital who led the research, said the transplant – carried out in September 2016 when the recipient was 32 – shows the technique is feasible and could offer women with uterine infertility access to a larger pool of potential donors.

Womb
. The woman’s previously fertilized and frozen eggs were implanted after seven months and 10 days later she was confirmed pregnant.. Pixabay

The current norm for receiving a womb transplant is that the organ would come from a live family member willing to donate it.

“The numbers of people willing and committed to donate organs upon their own deaths are far larger than those of live donors, offering a much wider potential donor population,” Ejzenberg said in a statement about the results.

She added, however, that the outcomes and effects of womb donations from live and deceased donors have yet to be compared, and said the technique could still be refined and optimised.

The first baby born after a live donor womb transplant was in Sweden in 2013. Scientists have so far reported a total of 39 procedures of this kind, resulting in 11 live births.

Experts estimate that infertility affects around 10 to 15 percent of couples of reproductive age worldwide. Of this group, around one in 500 women have uterine problems.

Before uterus transplants became possible, the only options to have a child were adoption or surrogacy.

Infants, baby, WOmb
The case, published in The Lancet medical journal, involved connecting veins from the donor uterus with the recipient’s veins. Pixabay

In the Brazilian case, the recipient had been born without a uterus due to a condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. The donor was 45 and died of a stroke.

Also Read: Pregnancy is Possible For Survivors of Breast Cancer

Five months after the transplant, Ejzenberg’s team wrote, the uterus showed no signs of rejection, ultrasound scans were normal, and the recipient was having regular menstruation. The woman’s previously fertilized and frozen eggs were implanted after seven months and 10 days later she was confirmed pregnant.

At seven months and 20 days – when the case study report was submitted to The Lancet – the baby girl was continuing to breastfeed and weighed 7.2 kg (16 lb). (VOA)