Given the promising results that stem cells have shown for therapies against brain disease and disorders, researchers have reasoned that stem cells could also be useful for age-related neurodegenerative disease and stroke. Aging indeed is related to several of the physiological changes that occur in the brains of those who suffer from neurodegenerative disorders. A recent review published in Ageing Research and Reviews outlines the ways stem cells may be used for cell-based therapies in stroke and neurodegeneration, as well as the benefits and limitations of stem cell approaches to these pathological conditions.
According to the authors, stem cells can be used to help with a number of the physiological marks of neurodegeneration. Loss of neurons and synapses is one of the more direct ways that stem cells can potentially help. By replacing these neural elements, stem cells can potentially reverse the impact of their loss. These functions may include both motor and cognitive aspects.
In addition to the loss of cell bodies and neural gray matter, the white matter of the brain is also affected by aging. The axons that connect cells to one another lose their plasticity and ability to repair themselves over time. These types of dysfunctions represent other ways that stem cells may be able to help with age-related neurodegenerative disorders.
Other problematic aspects of aging and associated neuropathologies are oxidative stress and misfolded proteins. While there has been some research to suggest that stem cells may be relevant for these issues, more research is needed to understand how stem cells may be able to help with neurodegeneration that results from these features that are often associated with aging. While the role of stem cells may be clearer when it comes to other aspects of neurodegeneration, future research will also help us understand how we can best apply this knowledge to help those suffering from neurodegenerative disease – age-related and otherwise.
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