Cool News on Brain Cells
Cool News on Brain Cells
Researchers at the University of Florida have used mature human brain cells to generate new brain tissue in mice. The press release reports that the researchers acquired the stem cells from the brains of epilepsy patients who had undergone surgery; the tissue came from a part of the brain not normally associated with stem cells.
The cells were cultured in a dish and given appropriate growth factors, at which point they differentiated into progenitor cells and could be coaxed into neurons. Further, when the researchers put cells that had not been cultured with the growth factors into mouse brains, the cells created new neurons. Of great significance is that the scientists were able to produce millions of cells from a single cell—the director of the institute where the research was conducted said, “This is a completely new source of human brain cells that can potentially be used to fight Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke and a host of other brain disorders. It would probably only take months to get enough material for a human transplant operation.”
There are several theories as to how this occurred. Researchers think it is possible that there are stem cells in the grey matter that start dividing under certain conditions; another theory is that when the normal cells are removed from their environment, they revert back to a more primitive stage.
This is pretty exciting, given that the brain is the area of the human body that we know doesn’t continue producing new cells through someone’s life. Obviously mice have pretty different brains from humans, and there may be something in their body chemistry which humans lack that produced this result—perhaps the cells express a particular protein that binds to mouse stem cells and stimulates them to produce, or turns off something that keeps them regulated. Humans might not have that particular receptor. But, of course, they might, and when you can start building neurons in a dish and keep them alive in an animal, you’ve got something very important.
I’m assuming that there is nothing fundamentally different in these brain cells between a person who has epilepsy and a person who does not, that the epilepsy surgery created an opportunity to harvest cells but is otherwise entirely irrelevant. But that might at least be confirmed. I’d also like to see if, with the right growth factors, these cells could become multi-potent or can only produce neurons, and if those growth factors have similar results on cells taken from other parts of the body, whether stem cells or normal ones. I’d also like to know what sort of cancer risk the mice had, what kinds of mutations occurred and at what rate, and so on. But there’s tremendous possibility in this.
Start lining up to donate parts of your brain!