Science Questions

Can stem cells treat brain diseases?

Sun, 25th Oct 2009

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Matthew asked:

Can stem cells treat brain diseases?


We posed this question to Ed Wild from University college London...

Well it’s a big question and the answer is that there’s a lot of promise in stem cells, but we’re probably several years away from being able to see the benefits of the research that’s going on.  You mentioned at the beginning of the program that brain cells, once they're dead, they're gone and they can't be replaced from within the brain because brain cells don't divide.  And the hope of stem cell research in neurodegenerative diseases is that you can take these stem cells which are capable still of dividing and becoming any kind of cell they like, put them into the brain and they’ll then re-grow, and replace the cells that have died.  But as you also mentioned earlier on, the brain is a phenomenally complex thing and performing its functions normally, depends not just on the cells being there but on the connections, the billions and billions of connections that there are between the brain cells.  And even if you could get the brain cells, the stem cells to differentiate into neurons that behave completely normally, you’d probably never be able to get them to make all the right connections.  So there’s certainly be a lot of work, training the stem cells to make the right connections and behave the same way as the cells around them.


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