Scientists have created an unlimited supply of a type of nerve cell found in the spinal cord – a self-renewing cell line that offers a limitless supply of human nerve cells in the laboratory. Such a supply has long been one goal of neurologists anxious to replace dead or dying cells with healthy ones in a host of neurological diseases.
In this study, appearing in the March issue of Nature Biotechnology, the scientists then used the cells to partially repair damaged spinal cords in laboratory animals, re-growing small sections of the spinal cord that had been damaged. Doctors emphasize that tests in people with damaged spinal cords or other neurological conditions are a long ways off.
The researchers, led by neurologist Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, created the unique cells by introducing a gene called telomerase, which is responsible for the ability of stem cells to live indefinitely, into more specialized "progenitor" cells. In normal development, these progenitor cells give rise to very specific types of spinal neurons, but they do so for only short periods of time, because they lack the ability to continuously divide. With the newly added telomerase gene, the spinal progenitor cells were able to continuously divide while still producing only specific types of neurons. The outcome was a line of immortal progenitor cells, capable of churning out human spinal neurons indefinitely.
Tom Rickey | EurekAlert!
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