All is not lost for Dementia patients who suffer from memory loss. Such patients have been offered hope that their memory could be repaired. Scientists have revealed that injecting blood from the umbilical cords of human babies restores brain function.
The discovery was made at Stanford University School of Medicine in the US. Researchers found that cord blood contains an important protein which vanishes as humans get older. The protein encourages neuroplasticity in the brain. This allows neurons to adapt and communicate more effectively.
After the human cord blood was injected into elderly mice they performed far better in learning and memory tests and even started nesting again, gathering up cotton wads to make beds, an instinctive behavior that is largely forgotten in old age.
The head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, Dr.James Pickett revealed that everyone experiences some decline in memory as they get older, adding that the possibility that this process can be reversed by an infusion of young blood sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but this is what the study is beginning to show.
Pickett pointed out that the study found that a factor in human umbilical cord blood can enter the brain and restore some of the processes that are essential for forming new memories. The scientist believes that the cord blood repairs the hippocampus.
Hippocampus is a part of the brain which in both mice and humans is critical for converting experiences into long-term memories. It’s particularly essential for helping people remember spatial information, such as how to find your way back to your car or information about autobiographical events, such as what you ate for breakfast.
The new discovery was conducted in a study that marks the first demonstration that human blood can aid older mice’s memory and learning, which the authors say increases the likelihood that it could have a similar beneficial effect in people.
Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray, Ph.D., professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford said that neuroscientists have ignored it and are still ignoring it, but to him, it’s remarkable that something in your blood can influence the way you think. Wyss-Coray is the study’s senior author.
He also indicated that it's not yet known as to why the hippocampus is especially vulnerable to normal aging. It degenerates with advanced aging, loses nerve cells and shrinks. The deterioration is also an early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers argue that the results indicate that systemic factors present early in life may be beneficial for the revitalization of aged tissue and that the protein represents such a restorative factor for the aged hippocampus.
The researchers at Stanford also proved that young blood can reverse some of the signs of aging in mice but have never shown it could restore learning and memory. The new experiment saw cord blood plasma or blood from people aged between 19 and 24, or 61 and 82 injected.
After the older mice received human umbilical-cord blood plasma every fourth day for two weeks, their memory, learning, and hippocampal function improved notably, as well as their ability to navigate through a complex maze.
The plasma from older people was of no help at all. The young-adult plasma only induced an intermediate effect.
The scientist realized that something in the umbilical cord blood was making the old brains act younger. They then set about trying to work out what it was and discovered a protein called TIMP2. After injecting TIMP2 by itself into elderly mice largely duplicated the beneficial effects of umbilical-cord blood.
Dr. Joseph Castellano who is an instructor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford revealed that studies on the TIMP2’s effects in the brain have been very few, especially in regard to aging.
Castellano revealed that the current study has focused on age-related cognitive decline. However, in future studies, he said that the study will probe the extent to which TIMP2 might be beneficial in the context of more severe synaptic and neuronal dysfunction such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The research has been very profound as experts in Britain said the research was interesting but called for more work on whether TIMP2 could also influence the brain activity in humans. The Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr. David Reynolds said that the study has zeroed in on a protein found in umbilical cord plasma that could play a role in keeping the brain healthy into older age.
He said that the treatments tested boosted some aspects of learning and memory in mice, adding that they don’t know how relevant the findings might be to humans.