ALBANY, N.Y. (WRGB) — Scientists at Albany Medical College have discovered a breakthrough that could one day help patients battling Alzheimer’s disease and other form’s of dementia.
In the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on Feb. 5th, the team of immunologists and neuroscientists found that targeting a specific immune cell, known as “group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s), in the brain may reverse age-related cognitive decline.
These immune cells help repair parts of the central nervous system.
Using mice, they found that these ILC2 cells in the brain collect in the part of the brain called the choroid plexus, a specialized brain barrier that provides a toxin barrier to the brain and other central nervous system tissue. They also found that these cells accumulate with age.
“In our study, we found that the cells not only accumulate in the brain of aged mice but they also have beneficial effects in alleviating cognitive decline in these aged mice, once it’s activated,” said Ivan Ting Hin Fung, Ph.D., research associate in the Department of Immunology and Microbial Disease at Albany Medical College and the study’s lead author.
“Once we activate the cells once the cells are activated they can release beneficial products that can improve the cognitive function in the aged mice,” said Qi Yang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbial Disease at Albany Medial College and a co-senior author of the study.
The scientists activate the ILC2 cells in the brain with a special molecule called IL-33.
When given to the aging mice, the scientists found that the animals performed better in behavioral tests and saw their cognitive skills improve.
Just like in mice, the scientists found that the human brain also collects these cells in the brain and that they accumulate with age.
“So the idea, you want to do the same kind of manipulation in humans that have cognitive decline with aging with Alzheimer’s disease, other degenerative disorders,” said Kristen Zuloaga, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at Albany Medical College and a co-senior author of the study.
“This hasn’t been tested in humans yet but this is where we hope this research will go,” said Zuloaga.
The scientists say it took three years to complete this study.
They say that this study couldn’t have been such a success if not for the collaboration of other scientists in the Capital Region including those at the Neural Stem Cell Institute in Rensselaer and the Alzheimer’s Center of Albany Medical Center.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is on the rise. In 2019, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and they project that number to grow to 14 million by 2050.
The association also notes that the costs of health care for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are one of the costliest in the nation, with $290 billion spent in 2019.