Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of dementia, results in profound loss of memory and cognitive function, and ultimately death. In the US, someone develops AD every 69 seconds and there are over 5 million individuals suffering from AD, including approximately 600,000 Californians. Current treatments do not alter the disease course. The absence of effective therapies coupled with the sheer number of affected patients renders AD a medical disorder of unprecedented need and a public health concern of significant magnitude. In 2010, the global economic impact of dementias was estimated at $604 billion, a figure far beyond the costs of cancer or heart disease. These numbers do not reflect the devastating social and emotional tolls that AD inflicts upon patients and their families. Efforts to discover novel and effective treatments for AD are ongoing, but unfortunately, the number of active clinical studies is low and many traditional approaches have failed in clinical testing. An urgent need to develop novel and innovative approaches to treat AD is clear.
We have proposed to evaluate the use of human neural stem cells as a potential innovative therapy for AD. AD results in neuronal death and loss of connections between surviving neurons. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, is particularly affected in AD, and is thought to underlie the memory problems AD patients encounter. Evidence from previous animal studies shows that transplanting human neural stem cells into the hippocampus improves memory, possibly by providing growth factors that protect neurons from degeneration. Translating this approach to humans could markedly restore memory and thus, quality of life for patients.
In the first year of the loan, the Disease Team actively worked on 5 important milestones in our effort to develop the use of human neural stem cells for AD. Of those, 2 milestones have been completed and 3 are ongoing. Specifically, the team has initiated three animal studies believed necessary to seek authorization by the FDA to start testing this therapeutic approach in human patients; these studies were designed to confirm that transplantation of the neural stem cells leads to improved memory in animal models relevant for AD. We are currently collecting and analyzing the data generated in these mouse studies. We have also identified the neural stem cell line that will be used in patients and have made considerable progress in its manufacturing and banking. Finally, we have held a pre-IND meeting with the FDA in which we shared our plans for the preclinical and clinical studies; the meeting provided helpful guidance and assurances regarding our IND enabling activities.
This project is a partnership between a biotechnology company with unique experience in clinical trials involving neural stem cell transplantation and a leading California-based academic laboratory specializing in AD research. Together with expert clinicians and scientists throughout California, we continue to work towards a successful IND submission to permit human testing of a novel and unique approach for the treatment of AD.