Neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, are a group of incurable neurological disorders, characterized by the chronic progressive loss of different neuronal subtypes. The conditions are debilitating and affect millions of people worldwide. Despite its increasing prevalence among the ever-increasing aging population, little progress has been made in the coincident immense efforts towards development of therapeutic agents. However, recent advancements in stem cell therapy including stem cells-derived exosomes, neurotrophic factors (NTFs), and their combination as potential therapeutic agents in neurodegenerative diseases.
In recent years, stem cells have emerged as one of the most active research therapeutic tools for many diseases. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to develop into pluripotent stem cells and adult stem cells. All stem cells have the potentiality of continuous self-renewal, high proliferation, and multidirectional differentiation into various cell types to replace degenerated or dead cells. In the context of neurodegenerative diseases, stem cells can be used to replace lost or damaged neurons, provide neuroprotection, and promote neural repair. These properties make stem cells an attractive option for treating neurodegenerative diseases, as they have the potential to slow or even reverse the progression of these conditions.
One of the key benefits of stem cell therapy for neurodegenerative diseases is that it offers a non-invasive, minimally-invasive, and non-toxic alternative to traditional treatments. Unlike drugs and surgery, stem cell therapy does not produce adverse side effects, and can be administered in a safe and controlled manner. In clinical trials, stem cell therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms and improving quality of life for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
- Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease and the most common form of dementia, affecting approximately 55 million people worldwide. Cognitive impairment is a hallmark of AD. Currently, drug therapies can only delay symptoms, but not relieve disease pathology or progression. Researchers have demonstrated that neurons derived from stem cells can integrate with existing neural networks and repair damaged neurons within the host brain, improving learning and memory deficits, and NTFs can improve AD symptoms and provide neuroprotective effects.
- Parkinson’s disease (PD)
The second most common neurodegenerative disorder is Parkinson’s disease (PD). The motor symptoms of PD mainly include rest tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia and postural instability, while common nonmotor symptoms include neuropsychiatric and sleep disorders as well as sensory and autonomic dysfunction. At present, there is no cure for PD or disease-modifying therapy. It is common for symptom-relief medications to only provide partial relief and elicit side effects such as motor complications, gastrointestinal problems, and neurological issues. In spite of the fact that these treatments do not address the underlying pathology, alternative therapies, especially those based on stem cells and NTFs, are still being pursued intensively.
- Huntington’s disease (HD)
Huntington’s disease (HD) is characterized by motor, cognitive, and psychiatric dysfunctions. The study of multiple possible neurodegenerative mechanisms of HD is currently underway, and this knowledge is expected to contribute to the development of new HD treatments. The abilities of stem cells to rescue or replace the damaged and dying neurons, and to prevent further cell damage and death, make stem cell-based therapies promising for treatment of this neurode-generative disease.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
As a neurodegenerative disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) involves progressive degeneration of both upper and lower motor neurons, resulting in palsy and death within 3-5 years of onset. Currently, only two disease-modifying medicines are available, each showing benefit to a limited number of patients. Stem cell-based therapy holds great promise for treating ALS by providing both cell replacement and NTF delivery to target the multiple pathologies. Stem cells available for ALS treatment include NSCs, MSCs, embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, and olfactory ensheathing stem cells.
While stem cell therapy is still in the early stages of development, it holds enormous promise as a future treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. A number of studies have demonstrated that stem cells and NTFs offer considerable therapeutic potential, especially when they are used together. In addition to replenishing target neurons, stem cells combined with NTFs can produce neurotrophins to improve the microenvironment that promotes nerve repair and regeneration. As research continues, we can expect to see even more exciting advancements in this field, bringing hope to those affected by these debilitating conditions.
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