KU Leuven takes first step towards dementia treatment

Molecular biologists working for the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) have made the headlines with research that brings them one step closer towards developing medication to treat dementia. They imitated how a certain form of dementia can come about, and on top of that they also managed to repair the genetic disorder, De Morgen reports.

The professors Philip Van Damme and Catherine Verfaillie examined three patients suffering from frontotemporal dementia. They managed to transform skin cells taken from the patients into stem cells. These were manipulated in such a way that they grew to become cerebral cortex cells.

"We next tried to develop brain cells that were affected by dementia, but we couldn't", Prof. Verfaillie explained on Radio 1. "We didn't understand very well why this was, because every patient is born with a normal, healthy brain before dementia develops at a later stage."

Genetic manipulation

Further genetic research involving patients with dementia and healthy patients gave them a new lead. They discovered that a specific so-called "signal route" is responsible. "This genetic transmitter was the cause that the cells couldn't develop into full-grown cerebral cortex cells", explains Verfaillie (photo).

The team managed to fix this problem through genetic manipulation. "If we succeeded in suppressing this particular plasma molecule that is seen in many dementia patients, we were able to let the brain cells develop in the right way."

The mechanism that was recently discovered, could be the first offset towards proper medication to tackle or prevent dementia, although Verfaillie underlines that this is not something for the near future.

"For this research, we used a broad range of blockers to suppress the molecule. We now have to find out which molecules are working efficiently. The substances we are talking about, also play a big part in other organs. And we also have to test whether this mechanism also works for other types of dementia."

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