To the Editors:
Your special report highlighted the growing number of people suffering dementia as one of the many terrible effects of an aging world. It did not consider the potential of medical intervention into aging itself to mitigate that future. Like all forms of age-related ill-health, dementia is caused by the accumulation of cellular and molecular damage in our tissues with age. We at SENS Research Foundation develop therapies to remove and repair this damage, so as to postpone (eventually indefinitely) age-related disease and debility, including neurodegenerative aging diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
One such therapy is maintenance of the brain’s neurons. A key subpopulation of these cells is selectively lost in AD, and a strategy to replace these and other neurons lost to aging processes is essential to maintaining cognitive function.
Only recently have scientists established methods to reliably transplant neuronal precursor cells into the brain in ways that allow them to integrate into and function within existing synaptic networks. Unfortunately, the transplant procedures are laborious and invasive and cannot scale to reach all the affected areas of the brain.
We sponsor work in this area by Dr. Jean Hébert of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Hébert has developed a new strategy to overcome this problem using microglia, a non-neuronal brain cell type capable of dispersing extensively throughout the brain upon implantation if a favorable space is made. By engineering microglia to transform into neurons upon administration of a drug, and using another drug strategy to create favorable space for them across the brain, Dr. Hébert proposes to deliver working neurons all across the aging brain, allowing the continuing replacement of neurons lost to AD, to trauma, and to other aging processes.
Jim O’Neill, CEO