Science Questions

Sun, 9th Oct 2005

Part of the show Stem Cells, Brain Repair and Tricks of the Light


Gary in Huntingdon asked:

How fast can brain cells repair the brain?


That's an extremely good question. The brain is a funny organ because it's made up of lots of different cell types. Some of these are brain cells and some of them aren't. What do I mean by this? Well, you have blood vessels in your brain, specialised cells that mop us damage and infection, and if you damage your brain, the non-brain cells in your brain actually repair themselves very quickly. The problem is that most of the really important brain cells that carry signals and tell your limbs how to move, your brain how to think and your body how to behave, unfortunately repair very slowly, if at all. That's why we've been working on a very special population of cells called stem cells. We hope that these cells have two very special properties. One is that you can grow them for a very long time in a dish in a laboratory. This will let us take a few cells out and grow them up into as many as we need. The second thing is that we want to be able to coax them into becoming brain cells. Hopefully you can inject them into people with brain damage and repair the damage. Of course, at the moment this is very early days and it's very experimental. However, some of the results we have at the moment from these early experiments are very exciting, and we hope that in many years' time, it will lead to a treatment for people with brain damage.


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