Gene therapy for Alzheimer’s? Biotech startup suggests new approach, using dementia ‘off switch’

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What if there were a single mechanism in the brain that, when faulty, leads to all kinds of dementias? And what if this mechanism, like a switch, could be flipped off?

That’s the thinking of Michael Fossel, the founder of the Michigan-based biotech startup Telocyte, which is developing treatments for Alzheimer’s. [January 14], Fossel published a review article postulating that Alzheimer’s and other dementias are caused by a failing of a workhorse class of brain cells called glia. He also proposes that he and his colleagues at Telocyte, founded in 2015, have a solution: a gene therapy that could target these cells to keep dementia at bay.

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The paper is theoretical—it’s a review, so it’s not presenting any original data.

But while theories are important, [Alzheimer’s Association director Rebecca] Edelmayer says, “they also need to be tested.” Gene therapies are still relatively new. And there’s reason to wonder about the safety of the gene the therapy would introduce: one that codes for the enzyme telomerase. Before scientists can even begin to test Fossel’s systematic theory of dementia, they’ll need a lot of data demonstrating its safety.

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