Treatment potential of neural stem cell implants

Researchers have observed promising results from a study of neural stem cell transplants in the hope of developing treatments for epilepsy and other neurological disorders

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May 05, 2015
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A team of researchers from University of Florida Health (FL, USA) has reported success from the transplantation of human stem cells that developed into fully functional neurons in a mouse model. This research is a promising step forwards in the search for novel treatment approaches to epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

In the reported study, implanted human neural stem cells were observed to survive for 8 weeks in a mouse model and developed into three types of interneurons. It is these cells which researchers hope could, one day, be utilized in the treatment of a variety of neurological diseases. For example, it is hoped that the implanted cells could be used in epilepsy patients to produce inhibitory neurons to calm the seizure-causing effects of overexcited neurons. Potential applications are not limited to epilepsy, with stroke and traumatic brain injury patients also being highlighted as potential benefactors.

Following implantation of the human stem cells, the group observed the neurons to fully integrate into the mouse brains and display electrical activity, suggesting that the transplanted cells were capable of communicating with existing neurons in the host.

Discussing the evolved neurons characterized by the group, collaborator Steven Roper (University of Florida) stated: “This shows that human stem cells are quite capable of providing the different cell types that we need to treat various diseases. This makes us very optimistic that these cells can ultimately be used for a number of different human diseases that require better control of brain function.”

Limitations of the work at present include the low survival rate of transplanted cells (just 1% in this study) and the need for testing in animal models with a normal immune system; mouse models without immune systems were used in this study to prevent rejection.

Outlining potential future prospects for this work, Roper explained: “We also need to learn how to control the fate of the neural stem cells that are transplanted so that a specific type of neuron can be used to treat a specific disease. It’s going to be a much better way of treating diseases than we currently have available. It’s not going to be tomorrow, but the fact that we’re using human stem cells means we’re already working on that next critical step.”

Written by Hannah Wilson

Sources: Zhou F-W, Fortin JM, Chen H-X, et al. Functional Integration of Human Neural Precursor Cells in Mouse Cortex. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0120281 (2015); University of Florida Health Newsroom https://ufhealth.org/news/2015/neural-stem-cell-implants-hold-promise-treating-epilepsy-other-neurological-disorders

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