Alzheimer’s disease has a new foe in zombie cells, and an innovative experimental treatment is currently being studied in North Carolina, United States, giving hope to millions of patients that a cure to halt, or even stop the disease is on its way.
“What Miranda [Orr, an assistant professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine who devoted years to investigating why neurons die in a brain with Alzheimer’s] is doing is really cutting edge, and it’s opening up newer layers of research,” says C. Dirk Keene, a professor of neuropathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Senescent cells are given the nickname “zombie cells” because even though they are no longer healthy, they do not die. They instead release chemicals that trigger inflammation and damage healthy tissue. Upon learning that cellular senescence allowed damaged cells to survive at the expense of neighboring healthy cells, Dr. Orr theorized that senolytics, a class of drugs that only attacks senescent cells, can protect a brain in the early stages of Alzheimer’s from developing the illness. Initial tests proved promising, and a placebo-controlled study is currently being conducted on 48 patients who undergo an MRI, a PET scan, a spinal tap, blood work, and a battery of memory tests before taking five capsules on two consecutive days every two weeks, for three months. The efficacy of two of the most widely studied senolytics are being tested: dasatinib, an FDA-approved medication for leukemia, and quercetin, a compound derived from popular plants for supplements. The study will come to a conclusion in the fall of 2024.