Are there stem cell therapies for the brain?

20 October 2012

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Question

Teo Gibson asked:

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

Answer

We put this question to Andrea Brand, from the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge...

Andrea -   Well, this is really something that we would all like to see happen in the not too distant future, but it’s 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, it’s still very, very early days, so I wouldn’t 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 that’s 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 that’s why it’s 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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