Friday, September 16, 2011

New stem cell promises spinal cord regeneration

A new type of cell found in the spinal cord possibly functions as a stem cell that is capable of neuronal regeneration. This means that, for example, paralysis, induced by spinal cord injury, maybe cured in the future by activating these cells to produce neuronal tissue. Researchers of the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health used genetic screening to discover a type of cell that shares characteristics with radial glial cells, that are normally involved with the development of the central nervous system in the embryo, but have never been found before in adults. These newly found adult radial glial cells also share a set of genes with other potential neuronal stem cells, but they vastly outnumber them, making radial glial cells a promising therapeutic target.

By guiding the radial glial cells towards the production of new neuronal cells which are normally found in the central nervous system, researchers may well develop a novel therapy to cure diseases in which the spinal cord is damaged. Next to their relatively large numbers, the location of these new stem cells is also a key advantage over other neuronal stem cells. The researchers found the radial glial cells on the outer edges of the spinal cord in mice, which makes accessing them easier. This is important for any attempts in trying to activate the cells, as cells on the inside of the spinal cord are hard to reach with drugs or other chemicals.

Finding neuronal stem cells is a rare occasion. It is known that there are cells with the capability to restore neuronal networks, but such behaviour is rarely observed in adults. This is peculiar, as there are a lot of adult stem cells available in the body, many of which have a function in renewing tissues. Because neuronal damage is usually irreversible, scientists need to find a way to activate the adult neuronal stem cells to induce repair processes. The newly discovered radial glial cells could be an important step in the right direction.

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