In 2014 we launched the Alzheimer’s Research UK Stem Cell Research Centre, a pioneering collaboration between researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London which uses the latest human stem cell technology to understand the biology of Alzheimer’s disease and screen for new treatments.

Building on Nobel Prize-winning science, researchers at the Centre will use skin cells donated from people with rare genetic forms of Alzheimer’s and use cutting-edge stem cell techniques to transform them into working nerve cells in the laboratory. This involves re-setting the clock on skin cells – turning them into stem cells which have the potential to form any cell type in the body. The researchers then use a cocktail of biological factors to encourage these stem cells to become working nerve cells. These cells have many of the features of the nerve cells in the brain that become damaged in dementia. You can read more about what stem cells are on our blog.

Prof Rick Livesey, who is leading the work of the Stem Cell Research Centre at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, has already shown that these nerve cells develop key features of Alzheimer’s in the dish and can be used to study the disease in more detail as well as to screen for new treatments.

The findings from this work are not only applicable to genetic forms of Alzheimer’s but could inform our understanding of the more common non-genetic forms too.

While this innovative stem cell research is not a replacement for clinical trials in people, it allows researchers to investigate key aspects of the disease in a human system. The collaboration will unite clinicians at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, who have unique access to patient samples, with stem cell experts at the University of Cambridge.

Brain stem cells

Brain stem cells made from skin cells from somebody with Alzheimer’s. Copyright Livesey group, Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge.

We are grateful to the Alborada Trust for supporting the vital work of the Stem Cell Research Centre.

On the blog: The Stem Cell Research Centre

Read our blog post on how stem cells are being used to study nerve cell damage in Alzheimer’s disease.

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