Alzheimer’s disease could be helped by a type of brain cell recently generated from embryonic stem cells

Embryonic stem cells matured into choroid plexus epithelial cells

We and others often write that embryonic stem cells can form all the cell types of the body. Well, what we really mean is that they can form the three basic cell layers, and that those layers generate all the cell types of the body. Scientists haven’t actually turned embryonic stem cells into each of the hundreds of cell types that make up our bodies.

Now researchers at University of California, Irvine have ticked one more cell type off the list of those that had not yet been generated. These cells could play an important role in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The cells go by the full name of choroid plexus epithelial cells, or CPECs. They are cells of the brain that are responsible for making the fluid that cushions the brain and spinal column. They cells also filter waste or other foreign matter from that fluid. These cells don’t function properly in people with Alzheimer’s disease, leading some scientists to guess that transplanted healthy cells might help treat the disease. The problem in testing that idea has been the lack of human CPECs to transplant.

That absence led UCI’s Edwin Monuki and graduate student Momoko Watanabe to mature embryonic stem cells to form CPECs, starting with both mouse and human stem cells. They published their discovery in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Now that they’ve figured out how to generate these cells, a lot of work lies ahead. They hope to find out if the cells can be transplanted to help generate more fluid to bath the brain and spinal column, and if that function helps treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s. They also think the cells could be engineered to produce drugs that could be pumped into the brain along with that fluid to treat diseases of the brain.

Finally, the team hopes the cells in a lab dish could be used to screen for drugs that might be used to improve the function of those cells in a person’s brain.

A press release from UCI quotes the lead author, Edwin Monuki:

“Our method is promising, because for the first time we can use stem cells to create large amounts of these epithelial cells, which could be utilized in different ways to treat neurodegenerative diseases.”

All of these approaches hold promise, but will require some long hours in the lab before we know if they work.

CIRM funding: Mimoko Watanabe (TG2-01152); Edwin Monuki (RN2-00915)


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