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The mysteries of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative afflictions have been notoriously difficult to solve. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research, little progress has been made in finding a treatment for these diseases, which Harvard researchers predict will affect as many as 1 in 5 Americans by 2030.

But recently, two research teams, one from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the other from the Salk Institute in San Diego, published findings that have opened a window for advancements in treating these horrific diseases.

The team from Cedars-Sinai found that "transplanting the bone marrow of young laboratory mice into old mice prevented cognitive decline in the old mice, preserving their memory and learning abilities." According to the report, the research supports "an emerging model that attributes cognitive decline, in part, to aging of blood cells, which are produced in bone marrow."

At the Salk Institute, meanwhile, researchers found that the Californian herb Yerba santa produces a natural compound, sterubin, that has "neuroprotective" qualities. Like the bone marrow transplant procedure, sterubin was tested on mice, and it was found that the mice's nerve cells, a vulnerable target of neurodegenerative illness, were protected from damage.

There are reasons to be skeptical of the findings. Perhaps the most significant hang-up is that mice are, of course, not human. And oftentimes treatments that work on mice in the lab do not translate to humans. So there is a long way to go before either of these discoveries can be seen as a bonafide treatment for neurodegenerative disease.

But the progress on finding any treatments for these devastating afflictions has been so slow that any step forward should be applauded. It remains to be seen if the findings from Cedars-Sinai and the Salk Institute will help humans stem the tide of neurodegeneration, but one thing is for sure: We will never find the key to treating these diseases unless researchers remain persistent, working to help humanity and tackle our most vexing challenges.

-- The Rome (N.Y.) Sentinel 

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