A stroke leaves a permanent gap in the brain that can destroy a persons ability to speak and move normally. Filling that gap with new cells has been a long sought-after goal of stem cell research, but all attempts have met with complications - until now. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine report the first success using stem cells to populate the damaged region with new neurons in rats. If those cells also replace the function of the lost cells, they could help people recover after a stroke.
In the study, published in the July 26 advance online issue of Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, neurosurgeon Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, and his group found that fetal stem cells injected into the brains of rats could migrate to the right location and turn into the appropriate types of neurons. "Were not saying we can treat patients immediately, but its a big step forward. This gives us considerable optimism for these cells," Steinberg said.
The cells in question are at an early stage of developing into the mature brain and are still able to form many types of brain cells, but until now the cells have shown that potential only in a lab dish. Stem Cells Inc., a company founded by study co-author and pathology professor Irving Weissman, MD, reported isolating these cells from human fetal tissue in December 2000. The company now grows the cells in bulk and distributes them to researchers studying spinal cord injuries as well as Parkinsons, Alzheimers and other brain disorders. Steinbergs is the first paper to show that the cells can transform into the appropriate cell types in an animal.
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