Scientists have grown brain cells that are prone to an attack from Alzheimer's for the first time in a breakthrough that could help reverse memory loss.
The team from Northwestern University in Chicago turned stem cells derived originally from skin into sophisticated types of neurons in the brain that are critical to memory retrieval and are killed by the degenerative condition.
The feat could lead to the discovery of new drug treatments and even transplantation to repair brain damage.
In early Alzheimer's, the ability to retrieve memories is lost, not the memories themselves and the reason is that cells, called basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, are killed.
There is a relatively small population of these neurons in the brain, and their loss has a swift and devastating effect on the ability to remember.
The team planned to reproduce a limitless supply of these cells scientists can work out a way to protect them from dying in the first place and eventually lead to transplantation into people with Alzheimer's.
"Now that we have learned how to make these cells, we can study them in a tissue culture dish and figure out what we can do to prevent them from dying," the Telegraph quoted Dr Jack Kessler as saying.
The team demonstrated the newly produced neurons work just like the originals. They transplanted the new neurons into the hippocampus of mice and showed the neurons functioned normally.
The paper was published in the journal Stem Cells.