WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — It’s a devastating diagnosis millions of Americans are dealing with, but scientists in the Triad may have discovered a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. 

In a study led by Dr. Miranda Orr, assistant professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who’s also a research health scientist with the Salisbury VA, identified a rare population of potentially toxic senescent cells which may be the key to a new Alzheimer’s disease treatment. 

“My grandmother passed away with Alzheimer’s disease the year that I graduated from college, so I’ve been really personally motivated to study it,” Orr explained. 

As Orr detailed, senescent cells are old, sick cells that can’t properly repair themselves, yet don’t die off as they should. In turn, they kill surrounding healthy cells and cause inflammation. 

“In our study, we focused on a new aspect of Alzheimer’s Disease, and that’s how advanced age increases the risk of developing it,” Orr said. 

Orr and her team use state-of-the-art techniques, looking at 140,000 cells from the brains of 76 people who died from the disease.  

“Patients selflessly donating their tissues to research after they’ve passed away is absolutely critical for us to know what was going on at that point in time so we can advance research,” Orr said. 

By finding the cells, the team was able to develop biomarkers for them. 

“The goal is to see whether or not these biomarkers appear in blood, and other fluids, that we can detect them in living people like you and me,” Orr added. 

The discovery has opened doors for several possibilities, including treatment options for people with Alzheimer’s. The team also hopes to determine when the cells begin to appear in a person’s lifespan.  

“It’s not often that these huge advances are made, and so, to be a part of that is incredibly exciting and rewarding,” Orr said.  

Orr is now in the process of launching a clinical trial, in which they hope to provide evidence of whether or not clearing the senescent cells will work to treat the disease. 

“There’s a huge impact with aging on disease progression, but we really don’t know what it is,” she said. “Aging is somewhat of a black box.” 

If you know someone who would like to participate in the study, you can reach the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, at (336)716-MIND.