Until recently the medical experts of the world have believed humans are born with the brain cells they will have for the rest of their lives. However, this debate brings new questions and possible answers to the way we treat Alzheimer’s.
The study conducted at the University of Madrid discovered that the number of new brain cells tailed off with age. While falling dramatically in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease – providing new ideas for managing dementia.
According to experts neurons – brain cells that send electrical signals – are indeed in place by the time people are born.
However, studies on other mammals have discovered new brains cells developing later in life, but the degree of “neurogenesis” in the human brain is still a cause of discussion.
The study examined the brains of 58 deceased people who were between the ages of 43 and 97.
The main focus was on the hippocampus – a part of the brain associated with memory and emotion — one of the most critical parts of the growing and living brain.
The team noticed immature or “new” neurons in the brains they examined; usually, neurons do not form in the brain entirely until they go through a process of growing and maturing.
Researcher Dr. Maria Llorens-Martin explained to BBC News: “I believe we would be generating new neurons as long as we need to learn new things. “And that occurs during every single second of our life.”
The story is not the same in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
According to the study, the number of new neurons forming decreased from 30,000 per millimetre to 20,000 per millimetre in people at the start of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Llorens-Martin noted: “That’s a 30% reduction in the very first stage of the disease.
“It’s shocking for us, it’s even before the accumulation of amyloid beta [a hallmark of Alzheimer’s] and probably before symptoms, it’s very early.”
Alzheimer’s disease remains untreatable, although the main focus of research has been targeting clusters of amyloid beta in the brain.
Despite, the efforts of the various research teams, last week more trials using this approach have been unsuccessful, which suggest that there may be something else happening at an earlier stage of the disease.
Dr. Llorens-Martin believes that by understanding why there is a drop in neurogenesis could potentially lead to new strategies to treat both Alzheimer’s and normal aging.
Although she thinks the next stage of research will require studying the brains of people while they are still alive, to understand what is happening throughout peoples lives.
Dr. Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, announced: “While we start losing nerve cells in early adulthood, this research shows that we can continue to produce new ones even into our 90s.”
“Alzheimer’s radically accelerates the rate at which we lose nerve cells, and this research provides convincing evidence that it also limits the creation of new nerve cells, she added. ”
While concluding that “Larger studies will need to confirm these findings and explore whether they could pave the way for an early test to flag those most at risk of the disease.”