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How can we protect our elders from Alzheimer’s disease?

There is hope: Molecular chaperones and exosomes will help retain memory

Dr. Pradeep V. Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Navi Mumbai

These days, many of us tend to lose touch with family and friends due to our hectic lifestyles. Imagine how it would be if the nerve cells in our brain lose touch with each other in a similar manner! We would possibly not be able to form a link between objects, people, and their names, or even perform simple day-to-day activities. 

This is typically what happens in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This neurodegenerative disease is caused by progressive loss of nerve cells and impaired interconnections due to accumulation of unwanted proteins in the brain (tau/amyloid). Over time, different areas of the brain begin to shrink. In fact, accumulation of these deposits might begin from the 4th or 5th decade of life of an individual and gradually lead to symptoms at a later age. Recent research has focused on an “unfolded protein response” in cases of Alzheimer’s disease, which in simple terms can be described as an aberrant response that is not protective. Activation of this response has been linked to age and accumulation of the aforementioned unwanted proteins. Despite knowledge regarding these mechanisms, we still do not know what exactly triggers this disease. It could be due to some genetic mutation, obesity, other neurological conditions, trauma, lifestyle habits, and many more. Therefore, it is difficult to prevent or even predict who or when a person will acquire the condition! 

Furthermore, currently, there is no definitive drug or conventional therapy that can treat or even halt the progression of the condition. This means that families tend to see their loved ones deteriorate over time, both physically and psychologically—sometimes to the extent that they do not remember their own spouse or children OR even how to brush their teeth! Sounds very depressing, doesn’t it? 

Worry not, there is a new branch of medical science—Regenerative Medicine and Cell-based Therapy, which is reaching newer heights with each passing day in the treatment of various diseases. This form of therapy aims to capitalize on the innate regenerative potential of the body through use of cells and other molecules present within the body. Today, let us understand about how molecular chaperones, which in simple terms are “helper molecules” and exosomes play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

Molecular chaperones are like the quality analysts of proteins. They function to regulate the activity of the proteins in the body and are also capable of destroying proteins that “misbehave.” Therefore, the natural step ahead would be to utilize these for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. So, what these chaperones have been shown to do is that, they prevent the proteins from clumping together in the brain, as seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, these can protect against further memory and other deficits. The best part, these are naturally occurring molecules in the body, hence the immune system will not consider them foreign, and there are no associated side effects.

The other set of molecules are exosomes, which are little “packets” containing genetic material, proteins, immune system cells, etc. that are released by cells and circulate through the body to the target areas. They form a means of communication between cells as well (messenger molecules). In context of Alzheimer’s disease, exosomes have been shown to clear the neurofibrillary tangles and β-amyloid deposits, as well as reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. Studies have shown that mesenchymal cell-derived exosomes play a neuroprotective role that are also capable of regenerating injured tissues in the brain. 

We now have definitive knowledge about these naturally occurring molecules. Chaperones and exosomes are the new “target-specific” agents; therefore, we can be sure that adjoining structures will not be harmed. In fact, we are in an era where molecule-, growth factor-based therapies are at the forefront of several researches. There are no drugs involved so the treatment is not symptom based, but considers the actual pathology.

Our goal is to ensure that progression of the condition is halted or at least slowed-down, so as to prevent cognitive decline. Our elders deserve to live life with dignity and treatment based on regenerative medicine is a definitive approach to ensure that. Through the use of cell-based therapy, we aim to enable patients age gracefully, independently, and cherish the memories they have accumulated in their lifetime.

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