A person goes through more changes before birth than they ever do again. Researchers believe that the protein, REST, helps the fetus adapt to the stress of these changes. After birth, it apparently disappears until the aging process starts. They found that healthy seniors have more of this protective protein than do people with most forms of dementia, including LBD. They also found that REST levels drop as symptoms worsen. Thus, a person with mild cognitive impairment will be better able to handle stress that a person with full-blown LBD. Most of the REST drop-off was in the learning, memory and planning centers of the brain, with little change in other areas of the brain. (reference)
If researchers can find a way to replace lost REST proteins in the brains of people with dementia, the cognitive losses might stop or become less troublesome. Of course, a lot more study and research must happen first. More immediately, this study provides a scientific basis for the reason that our loved ones do poorly when stressed and why their stress tolerance is so low, which emphasizes the importance of stress management.
Stem cell research. Researchers have used stem cells to identify an abnormal form of alpha-synuclein, the protein which turns into Lewy bodies when it “misfolds.”
Stem cells are the building blocks of our body. They can adapt and grow into any organ. It used to be that most stem cells came from aborted fetuses. This is seldom true anymore. In fact, in most states this is illegal. Sometimes, they come from the cord blood of live births, blood that would otherwise have been discarded. More likely they came from “cell lines,” stem cells collected long ago and cloned to grow more.
Researchers have been able to grow mis-folded alpha-synuclein, (Lewy bodies) in stem cells. The goal is to eventually be able to use these cells to test new drugs. The advantages of using these manufactured cells are several. (reference)
- They are human cells and therefore, a better fit than animal cells would be. Actual human trials will still be needed, but this should speed up the research.
- Testing with stem cells first reduces the risk of possible side effects of yet untried drugs. Even when clinical trials with animals have shown drugs to be safe, there is still a chance that they won’t be with humans. This adds another level of safety before clinical trials with humans.
- Researchers can watch the cells spread and change as the disease progresses. While researchers can see such changes by examining autopsies of people in various stages of the disease, this has more continuity.
- Tests can start at various stages of the disease, including very early stages.
To learn more about Lewy Body Dementia read our books:
A Caregiver’s Guide to Lewy Body Dementia