Stem cell genetic 'switch' offers Alzheimer's hope

A cell being manipulated
17 Jan 2012 16:02:56.040
PA 14/12

Scientists at The University of Nottingham are leading a £1.3 million research project to develop new treatments to replace brain cells lost during dementia.

Lead investigator Dr Virginie Sottile, of the School of Clinical Sciences, is heading up the Alzheimer’s Society-funded study to ‘flick a genetic switch’ to turn bone marrow stem cells into brain cells.

Dr Sottile said, “This project will be a step towards stem cell therapies, altering human bone marrow stem cells to resemble brain stem cells by ‘switching on’ specific genes.
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“Bone marrow contains a fraction of stem cells that are promising in terms of new therapies. These stem cells are already used to repair bone and cartilage. The research is a fundamental project to understand whether and how we can manipulate bone marrow cells to use as a source to replace lost brain cells.”

Stem cells have the potential to turn into many different cell types that the body needs, offering an opportunity to treat diseases where tissue has been damaged.

Alzheimer's disease causes nerve cells to die, interrupting complex inter-connections in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain. It is this network of cells that gives us our memories, personalities and behaviour patterns.

Alzheimer’s Society Research Manager Dr Anne Corbett said: “Understanding how brain stem cells are produced is a further step towards knowing more about how the brain works and could, potentially, be repaired.

“We are still a long way off from a stem cell treatment for dementia but research like this is vital if we are to move forwards. Dementia research is drastically underfunded. We must invest now to develop new treatments and search for a cure.”

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011, a league table of the most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit:

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Award for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research on global food security. More news from the University at:

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More information is available from Dr Virginie Sottile on +44 (0)115 823 1235,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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