New Orleans Neural stem cells, which promise treatments for currently incurable brain ailments and spinal cord injuries, may be far easier to obtain from adult tissues than anyone had thought, new research released Sunday indicates.
Potent but politically charged, neural stem cells offer the promise of the first effective way to undo the damage of spinal cord injuries, strokes and a host of debilitating brain diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
The findings were presented Sunday at The Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, which represents 28,000 scientists who study the biology of the brain.
Stem cells are extracted from human embryos or fetal tissue. The need to use cells derived from the products of abortion or from human embryos created for research purposes raises formidable ethical and regulatory challenges to wider use of the cells.
But a new study by researchers in New Jersey shows for the first time that, with the proper experimental growth factors, stem cells isolated from adult bone marrow can convert into neurons quickly and can be grown in almost unlimited supply.
Moreover, animal experiments show that these cells can be successfully transplanted into the spinal cord and brain, where the cells appear to survive and connect to other neurons, the researchers said.
The discovery raises the prospect that people in need of treatment one day might be able to donate their own cells to repair crucial nerve tissue damaged by stroke, disease or injury, eliminating any need for powerful drugs to suppress the recipient's immune system.