Here’s a trio of three early stage studies that look encouraging for using stem cells as therapies in the brain.
Getting enough cells. Lorenz Studer has published a new protocol for coaxing ES cells into neurons. The big change involved adding a couple molecules that effect important signaling pathways. The protocol produces more cells in less time and doesn’t require feeder layers or embryoid bodies. One researcher unconnected to the research I spoke to was certain a lot of scientists would switch to the new protocol.
Plugging stroke holes
A new study in BioMaterials shows that adding stem cells into a kind of scaffolding putty can result in primitive neural tissue that fills in the holes left by stroke. A quick glance through the paper left me with some questions: 1) what’s the functional improvement? and 2) will those cells stop growing once they fill the holes? (See NPG’s write-up on The Great Beyond )
Another study, conducted by Johns Hopkins in collaboration with the company Neurostem, finds that human neural stem cells can, when implanted in rats, actually form synapses with rat motor neurons. According to the abstract, previous work by the same team had shown that human neural stem cell grafts can ameliorate symptoms in a rat model of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Previous work by unrelated researchers had shown that human glial progenitor cells could remyelinate neurons and alleviate symptoms of a different mouse model, but a Neuralstem press release says this is the first time synapses have formed. Integration of grafted cells with host cells has long been considered one of the biggest barriers to getting treatments to work.