Do you or people you know suffer from any health challenges?

New research may help alzheimers sufferers

Pioneering brain scientist Richard Faull came to Marlborough on Friday with a message of hope for people suffering from Alzheimers and other neurological conditions.

More than 200 people packed into Blenheim's Wesley Centre to hear the Auckland University professor talk about his ground-breaking research into adult stem cell transplants.

Stem cells are cells that divide and differentiate into other cell types, acting as a repair system by replenishing destroyed or damaged cells in the body.

Neuroscientists at the university, working on rats, have for the first time successfully transplanted a viable number of adult stem cells, enabling brain cells destroyed by diseases such as Alzheimers, Huntingtons and Parkinsons to be replaced.

However, Dr Faull, 61, who was awarded with an "Oscar for Science", the Lily Medal, in 2005, was quick to point out that stem cell therapy treatment for humans is still a long way off ? at least another 10 to 15 years. However, new drugs developed from the research that would make a difference to sufferers could be within five to 10 years away.

He said it was critical that the large research group looking at brain disease was able to receive human brain tissue to work on.

"It is a cornerstone of the research that families bequeath the brains of loved ones to us so that research can continue," he said.

He hailed as "revolutionary" the discovery in 2003 that the brain does produce new brain cells in adulthood.

He said it was previously thought that once grown up, people no longer produced new brain cells and the idea was criticised in many scientific circles, but Professor Faull was excited to hear last week that his research had been accepted for publication in a top scientific journal in the USA.

Professor Faull's enthusiasm for his subject, Brian Diseases and Stem Cells ? Fact or Fantasy, kept his audience fully engaged and was aimed not just at health professionals but also at the man in the street. "There is a lot of interest currently in the potential future use of stem cells and gene therapies to treat many neurological conditions," he said.

"The recent demonstration of stem cells in the adult mammalian brain raises the exciting possibility that these cells may be able to generate neurons for cell replacement in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinsons, Huntingdons, Alzheimers and epilepsy."

"Our research studies provide the first evidence of neurogenesis in the diseased human brain and are exciting findings indicating the regenerative potential of the diseased human brain."

"Our studies suggest the possibility that neural stem cells in the adult human brain may provide a means for the application of novel new treatment strategies involving cell replacement techniques in the treatment of patients with brain diseases."

"However there is still considerable research to do before these exciting findings can be applied to the treatment of patients with neurological diseases."

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