Could Gene Therapy Work for Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the findings of experiments conducted on animals at the Imperial College in London, it is possible to stop the further progress of Alzheimer's with the help of gene therapy. A virus or vector (as it has been referred to in the gene therapy terminology) was used to deliver a specific set of genes into the affected brain cells.
We still can't cure Alzheimer's, but it would mean a lot if we can prevent the progress of this serious and crippling condition.
The scientists at the Imperial College in London are very careful when it comes to their optimism and especially the statements they’re making about these findings.
It’s still early to talk about the full-scale therapeutic application of gene therapy for Alzheimer's patients. However, we know in which direction we have to proceed if we are to deal with this illness the right way.
For the time being, the biggest problem is that the specific genes have to delivered directly into the brain cells with an injection. It goes without saying that more appropriate way would be to remove the target cells, deliver the genes into them, and then, return the treated cells or tissue.
We’re talking about an extremely delicate brain surgery with high risks, which leaves us with limited options to use in vivo gene therapy as being previously described.
The Genes Delivery Method is the Key
The scientists are focused on viruses that can be used as harmless and effective carriers of specific genes. For instance, the lentivirus has been successfully used as a vector in experiments where the brain cells of patients suffering from Parkinson's were treated.
A gene therapy solution that works for Alzheimer's patients is very likely to have success with the Parkinson's patients and vice versa. If we can find a way to deliver specific genes into brain cells and achieve the desired effects, then we can treat all serious illnesses that affect our brain. This means that by finding a solution for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, we are also getting close to easing the pain and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people who are suffering from dementia.
The biggest challenge comes from a requirement not to cause damage to the brain cells and tissue while delivering the therapeutic genes. If we cause more damage than the benefits the gene therapy genes ensures, then the whole procedure becomes highly questionable.
The two main areas of our brain the gene therapy targets while treating the Alzheimer's patients are: the cortex and the hippocampus. These brain regions play a crucial role in short-term memory tasks, orientation, thinking, reasoning, long-term memory, and mood. It is quite obvious that gene therapy’s main goal is to deal with these symptoms, including the conditions that inevitably follow, such as agitation and depression.
If Gene Therapy Works on the Mice Can It Work on the Men Too?
The experiments we have mentioned at the beginning of our story of gene therapy and Alzheimer's, which included the mice, are the wind under the wings of gene therapy enthusiasts for more than one reason. It has been proven that the mice treated with the gene therapy were able to perform as successfully in memory tasks as the healthy mice.
What's even more important to emphasize is the fact that thanks to gene therapy the treated mice didn't lose brain cells in the hippocampus region compared to the mice without the therapy. In addition, the glial cells that are responsible for the brain cell damage in patients suffering from Alzheimer's were reduced also thanks to the specific genes delivered through the gene therapy.
As we have said, the scientists are optimistic and enthusiastic about their findings, but the caution is strongly recommended when it comes to the interpretation and further application of these results.
The memory tasks conducted on the mice were the simple ones. The emphasis was on small familiar objects that the treated mice were supposed to identify after being exposed to the healing genes. When it comes to the men, we’re talking about a much bigger picture. Not only familiar objects and people, but also complex social and emotional relationships have to be restored and recognized.
That’s why, we can’t know for sure what are the limits of the gene therapy in the real-life clinical applications on Alzheimer's patients.
We Still Can’t Cure, But We Can Prevent and Minimize the Damage
To say that gene therapy delivers the cure for Alzheimer's is undoubtedly a reckless statement. However, we can’t ignore its potential to prevent Alzheimer's and minimize the damage to the affected brain cells.
If the gene therapy for Alzheimer's patients is to be a successful one, the scientists have to make sure it is effective, practical, and above all safe.
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