Skin Cells Used To Create Nerve Cells To Study Alzheimer’s Damage

Researchers in Sweden have used skin cells from people with Alzheimer’s to create nerve cells that can be used to model the disease in a dish. The study is due to be presented on Tuesday 9 December at the ASCB/IFCB Meeting.

Scientists at Lund University took skin samples from 34 people who were part of the Swedish BioFinder Study, which involves volunteers with and without Alzheimer’s disease. Using some of these samples, the researchers then used advanced techniques to reprogramme the skin cells to become stem cells – which can become any type of cell in the body – before converting them into nerve cells. They found that their newly-created nerve cells contained two proteins that are known hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid and tau.

This method mirrors approaches being used by researchers at Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Stem Cell Research Centre, where scientists at the University of Cambridge and UCL are using skin cells donated by volunteers with a rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s, to create functional nerve cells in a dish. Because these cells carry a gene that causes Alzheimer’s, they show the same damage seen in the disease, providing an ideal platform for studying the disease and screening potential treatments.

The researchers at Lund University now plan to use the method to study the damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, by comparing cells taken from people with Alzheimer’s and people without the disease. The volunteers have also taken part in thinking and memory tests, as well as undergoing brain scans and providing samples of cerebrospinal fluid for testing, and the researchers hope to pull together this information with the results of their cell studies to gain a greater insight into the disease.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“This study has not yet been published in full but this approach using donated cells holds real promise for understanding Alzheimer’s, which is why Alzheimer’s Research UK is currently backing similar research. One advantage of this study is its potential to combine information on changes within nerve cells and other changes associated with Alzheimer’s. For research like this to be translated into treatments that can benefit people, continued investment is vital. The more we understand about this complex disease, the better our chances of developing ways to stop it in its tracks.”