No stem-cell transplants required
March 4, 2014
UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have created new nerve cells in the brains and spinal cords of living mammals without the need for stem cell transplants to replenish lost cells.
In a comment to a KurzweilAI news article, “Brain signals from a primate directly move paralyzed limbs in another primate ‘avatar,’” “Cazbot” wondered if “a sort of ‘neural jumper’ could be used to bridge damaged sections of spinal chord.”
This new research indicates it may someday be possible to do just that — by regenerating neurons from the body’s own cells to repair traumatic brain injury or spinal cord damage, or to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists in UT Southwestern’s Department of Molecular Biology first successfully turned astrocytes — the most common non-neuronal brain cells — into neurons that then formed networks in mice. They have now successfully turned scar-forming astrocytes in the spinal cords of adult mice into neurons. The latest findings are published today inNature Communications and follow previous findings published in Nature Cell Biology.
“Our earlier work was the first to clearly show in vivo (in a living animal) that mature astrocytes can be reprogrammed to become functional neurons without the need of cell transplantation. The current study did something similar in the spine, turning scar-forming astrocytes into progenitor cells called neuroblasts that regenerated into neurons,” saidChun-Li Zhang, assistant professor of molecular biology at UT Southwestern and senior author of both studies.