Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stem cells found to be effective in brain injury

Stem cells are often described as a therapeutic that can work wonders by regrowing damaged tissues. They are of special interest in neurology, because nerves are barely being repaired by the body itself. Recently, we have been able to get some success by using stem cells, especially for treating neurological disorders. Now, an animal study has revealed that stem cells are able to restore functionality after brain injury. It may help us heal otherwise permanent brain damage.

For their studies, Japanese scientists used rats with brain injury and injected a load of stem cells into the carotid artery, the blood vessel that is used for transport to the brain. Because the cells were labelled with a fluorescent dye, it was possible to track them as they made their journey to the brain. Once they reached their destination, the stem cells were able to cross the barrier from the blood vessels into the brain, which is not an easy feat: normally there is a protection mechanism to prevent anything but nutrients to escape from the blood and into the tissue.
After a few weeks, the researchers found that the injected cells had made their way to various parts of the brain, where they contributed to restoring its original function. Parts that were previously injured were revived with stem cells that had differentiated into nerves native to that area. Functionally, the rats restored the ability to move around; their movement was impaired because the required nerves in the brain were not working properly anymore due to the brain damage. It highlights that the stem cells are able to take over the function of the nerves that were killed during the injury, and that they function in the same way as the cells they replace.

Other studies
Stem cells are not only used to treat brain damage that was caused by injury. In scientific studies, scientists have shown efficacy in treating damaged spinal cords, visual impairment or neurodegenerative diseases such as parkinson's. Stem cells may even be used to increase our life span. A fair number of studies have entered the phase of human trials, after stem cells were already hallowed for decades to be a wonder cure for many diseases. Initially, it seemed we would be able to use stem cells relatively fast for clinical use, but scientists found throughout the years that controlling their development is not as easy as it seemed. We do seem to be on the right track now, with many studies already showing promising results.

The fact that clinical improvement was seen in rats is promising for its use in human patients. Additionally, the ability of being able to track the injected cells is a big plus. It is however unknown when the first clinical trials will start. According to the scientists, future studies are needed to learn what the optimal treatment strategy is in brain injury. 

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