Researchers Successfully Transplant Neurons Made From Human Stem Cells

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute recently discovered that neurons developed from stem cells can boost brain activity following transplantation with a laboratory model. The findings show that the cells could possibly be used in the future to treat Alzheimer´s disease and other types of neurodegenerative illnesses.

Currently, scientists are able to develop neurons and other brain cells from stem cells. However, it is difficult to transplant the neurons properly. With the new findings, the researchers are able to move past this hurdle.

“We showed for the first time that embryonic stem cells that we´ve programmed to become neurons can integrate into existing brain circuits and fire patterns of electrical activity that are critical for consciousness and neural network activity,” explained the study´s senior author Stuart A. Lipton, a clinical neurologist, in a prepared statement.

In the study, the team of investigators transplanted neurons from human stem cells into a rodent hippocampus, the brain´s informational processing center. Next, each of the transplanted neurons was activated with optogenetic stimulation. Otpogenetic stimulation is considered a new technique that mixes light and genetics together to specifically control the cellular behavior of animals or living tissues.

The researchers then tracked the high-frequency oscillations with neurons that already existed at a distance from transplanted ones to understand whether the newly transplanted human neurons were functioning. These light-stimulated transplanted neurons helped stimulate the existing neurons to send out high-frequency oscillations. As such, the transplanted human neurons were successful in maintaining close by neuronal networks to fire off and conducting electrical impulses that were similar to the normal rate of a hippocampus that worked.

With funding for the research provided by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the researchers believe that this type of technology could have much use in the future.

“Based on these results, we might be able to restore brain activity–and thus restore motor and cognitive function–by transplanting easily manipulated neuronal cells derived from embryonic stem cells,” concluded Lipton, who also serves as the director of Sanford-Burnham´s Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center, in the statement.

The research also addresses the issue of Alzheimer´s, which has been growing in the last few years. According to the National Institutes of Health, Alzheimer´s is a form of dementia that can impact a person´s behavior, memory and thinking. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reported that, for older adults, Alzheimer´s is the most common form of dementia with almost five million Americans reported as having the disease. Factors like age, family, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can all play role in the risk of Alzheimer’s. For those who believe that they have symptoms related to Alzheimer´s, it´s best to consult with a doctor on the causes of memory loss or similar symptoms. Support from family and friends is important as well.

The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.