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Cure for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease a step closer

Thursday July 18, 2013

TVNZ - New Zealand scientists have made a breakthrough in stem cell research, taking a cure for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease one step closer.

While the study has found what is preventing some stem cells from becoming neurons, scientists at Auckland's University Centre for Brain Research have pinned down the culprit at a cellular level.

They found that stem cells have to move around the brain to find their place in order to produce a coat of slippery molecules to make it easy to move.

Once in place, they absorb the slippery layer and become neurons, connecting with other neurons to form circuits.

"It's a little bit like putting soap on yourself before you go down a hydro slide, it makes the journey a lot less friction filled," Dr Maurice Curtis from the Centre for Brain Research said.

"The cells do a similar thing. But when they get to the right location they need to be able to remove that slippery coating in order to stop and intergrate to form networks."

In brains with diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, the slippery coat stays on the outside of the cell which makes it hard to become a neuron and to connect with others.

The study has found that an oversupply of insulin stops the cell re-absorbing the slippery molecules.

"We know, for instance that high levels of insulin block the process of removing the slippery coating. We think will actually increase the re-absorbtion which may have significant implications for getting brain cells to connect up better," Dr Curtis said.