Researchers at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute have shown that “ordinary human brain cells may share the prized qualities of self-renewal and adaptability normally associated with stem cells,” the University reports. And the biomedical implications are astounding.
“It was a long and difficult process, but we were able to induce what are basically support cells in the human brain to form beautiful new neurons in a dish,” says Noah Walton, a member of the research team. “But what we really needed was for these support cells to turn into neurons in the brain, and we found we could get them to do it.”
The mature cells they took from supportive tissue in epilepsy patients’ brains, bathed in growth agents, and implanted in mice have generated large amounts of new human brain tissue. The researchers speculate that either the mature donor cells revert to “neural progenitor” or “stem cell” form in a new environment, or that some progenitor cells emerge from the gray matter and proceed to multiply “in torrents.” The replication works at such a rapid rate that theoretically one cell could produce enough “to replace every cell of the donor’s brain and conceivably those of 50 million other people,” says Dennis Steindler, PhD, the McKnight Institute’s executive director.
“Now the question is, what will these cells do in a human brain?” says Walton. “Will they be able to survive for the long term and rebuild circuitry? This work is a first step toward that end.”
The article describing this work, “Derivation and large-scale expansion of multipotent astroglial neural progenitors from adult human brain,” by Noah M. Walton, et al., was published in the journal Development in “e-press” format August 16, 2006. As an open access article it is available free in PDF format at http://dev.biologists.org/cgi/content/abstract/dev.02541v1