Science Questions

Are there stem cell therapies for the brain?

Tue, 29th Jan 2013

Part of the show New Brain Cells, Anyone?

Question

Teo Gibson asked:

ďHave stem cells been successfully used to treat neurological diseases in humans? If so, where, the brain, the spinal cord, or the pinkie toe?

Answer

Hannah -   And once we have stem cells or differentiated cells, what can we use them for?  So, Teo Gibson has been in touch via Facebook saying,

ďHave stem cells been successfully used to treat neurological diseases in humans?  If so, where, the brain, the spinal cord, or the pinkie toe?

Andrea -   Well, this is really something that we would all like to see happen in the not too distant future, but itís still early days and there are some studies going on at the moment on using stem cells, transplanting stem cells into the brains of stroke patients. 

 

But as I say, itís still very, very early days, so I wouldnít say that there's been successful treatments yet.  However, there are some very encouraging work going on in repairing defects in the eye, and I think that will probably be the first place where stem cells really come into their own, perhaps in restoring photoreceptors or restoring sight.  So, I think thatís probably where the first advances will be seen. 

 

In terms of transplantation into the brain, the other possibility which may be a little bit further in the future, there are stem cells in the adult brain of healthy individuals.  And these stem cells where these cells that give rise to the neurons in the brain in the first place.  And so, if we could somehow prompt those cells to generate new neurons, then you could imagine this might be a way of repairing the nervous system after damage or neurodegenerative disease.  And thatís why itís important to understand what makes a stem cell a stem cell, and what one has to do to get that stem cell to produce particular cell types.

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