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A "cure" for strokes may soon be a simple as growing new brain tissue

An intriguing new study reiterates the promise that stem cells hold for curing many diseases.  Stem cells in the human body can be transformed into a variety of types of cells, depending on what biologic agents they're exposed to.  Initially, stem cells were the subject of much more debate as they were harvested from fetuses, but now scientists are beginning to produce them in the lab by transforming patients' normal tissue cells into stem cells.

In the recent study, a team led by Dr. Mike Modo of the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London investigated replacing stroke-damaged tissue in rats with new tissue from stem cells.  Strokes, caused by blockages in brain blood vessels lead to dead areas of brain tissue.  Past studies have looked at replacing this dead tissue with stem cells, which would grow into new brain tissue.  However, they have met with little success.

The new study, though, shows such growth is possible; the cells just need a scaffolding to grow.  In past studies, the cells migrated to other areas of the brain, making them essentially useless in fixing the problem.  In the new study researchers attach them to a tiny scaffold made of a biodegradable polymer called PLGA, and coated this scaffolding in neural stem cells.  The result is that the damaged brain tissue is regrown successfully in just 7 days.  The technique has a strong likelihood of being able to be applied in humans.

States Dr. Modo, "We would expect to see a much better improvement in the outcome after a stroke if we can fully replace the lost brain tissue, and that is what we have been able to do with our technique.  This works really well because the stem cell-loaded PLGA particles can be injected through a very fine needle and then adopt the precise shape of the cavity.”

“In this process the cells fill the cavity and can make connections with other cells, which helps to establish the tissue.  Over a few days we can see cells migrating along the scaffold particles and forming a primitive brain tissue that interacts with the host brain. Gradually the particles biodegrade leaving more gaps and conduits for tissue, fibres and blood vessels to move into," Dr. Modo continued.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans are used in the study to locate the damaged tissue and the optimal injection site for the scaffolding/stem cell mix.  Subsequent MRI scans track the development of the brain tissue.

The researchers' next step will be to permeate the growing tissue with VEGF, a factor which promotes blood vessels to permeate a tissue.  This will help bring blood flow to the developing brain mass, keeping it alive. 

Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which funded the project, states, "Stroke is a leading cause of disability in industrialised countries. It is reassuring to know that the technology for treating stroke by repairing brain damage is getting ever closer to translation into the clinic. This crucial groundwork by Dr Modo and his colleagues will surely be a solid foundation of basic research for much better treatments in the future."

Joe Korner, Director of Communications at The Stroke Association (UK) adds, "This research is another step towards using stem cell therapy in treating and reversing the brain damage caused by stroke. It is exciting because researchers have shown they are able to overcome some of the many challenges in translating the potential of using stem cells into reality.  The potential to reverse the disabling effects of stroke seems to have been proved. However the development of stem cell therapy for stroke survivors is still in the early stages and much more research will be needed before it can be tested in humans or used in practice.  Every five minutes someone in the UK has a stroke and it is vital that we do all we can to help those affected by stroke."

The new research is published in the journal Biomaterials.

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an interesting paradox
By kattanna on 3/9/2009 1:58:31 PM , Rating: 2
since science believes all knowledge is stored electro-chemically within the neurons, that makes it when someone loses a section of brain tissue they would in effect lose all that knowledge.

what would happen if using this technique, those lost sections are restored and said lost knowledge is then regained?

but if not, would certain key knowledges like basic motor functions be able to be retrained?

RE: an interesting paradox
By geddarkstorm on 3/9/2009 2:28:29 PM , Rating: 2
It's a really great, and interesting question. We'll only know once it happens and we can see for ourselves.

There's a chance the brain would be restored to what it once was. Most of the information in the brain is due to the pattern of connections between neurons. If you learn the piano, you form characteristic connections between certain areas. If you don't play the piano for years, these connections atrophy. However, if you try to relearn the piano, the same connections will be restored rapidly, making re-learning a fast and efficient process. Since the brain somehow can remember where connections once were, probably due to the structure of surrounding tissue?, then there's a chance that introduced stem cells would fill back in those same patterns and restore things to what they were.

Now memories.. that's a different issue it seems.

Looks like it won't be that many years before we find out first hand what happens.

RE: an interesting paradox
By Smartless on 3/9/2009 2:43:27 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm sounds complicated... Wouldn't each stem cell have to copy each neuron synapse?

Or..."You can't stop me HackMan!"

RE: an interesting paradox
By bupkus on 3/9/2009 3:50:37 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if there is storage redundancy.
We have pairs of many of our vital organs. I'm not talking about pairs of sensors such as eyes and ears-- they enhance spacial acuity. But why would we have two kidneys, lungs, ovaries, testicles if not to build in a level of redundancy?

I should google/yahoo "memory and brain tissues."

RE: an interesting paradox
By Proxes on 3/9/2009 5:19:53 PM , Rating: 2
Too bad we don't have redundant hearts or colons.

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