Sleeping Stem Cells May Be Key for Healing the Brain
Posted on April 27, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have uncovered a stem cell that may mean a new way to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease affects 5.7 million Americans, according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association. The condition causes cognitive impairment, memory loss, confusion and mental decline.
Alzheimer’s disease most commonly develops in people over the age of 65, but the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that about 200,000 individuals under the age of 65 have developed an early-onset form of the disease.
The stem cell discovered by the Cambridge researchers has been dubbed as the “G2 quiescent stem cell,” and is potentially just one of several different quiescent, or “sleeping,” stem cell researchers found in the brain.
This particular sleeping stem cell has shown an advantage over other dormant stem cells in the brain because of its ability to regenerate brain tissue.
The finding is significant; the body does not regenerate brain tissue easily or at all, in some cases. The discovery could mean new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive conditions, as well as for repairing damage caused by traumatic brain injuries.
“Very often when a person sustains a brain injury from an accident or other traumatic event, they are left with permanent side effects,” said Dr. Joel Singer.
Singer is a doctor practicing adipose fat stem cell therapy in New York.
“These effects can range from short- and long-term memory loss to cognition problems, difficulty speaking and speech impairment,” Singer said.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells found in the body’s tissues and organs with the ability to become different cell and tissue types. Stem cells also have the ability to reproduce continuously.
“The ability of stem cells to develop into a diverse range of cells, coupled with their infinite regeneration capability, makes them a critical piece of the puzzle in treating Alzheimer’s,” said Singer.
Regenerative medicine is the medical specialty that focuses on the body’s ability to heal itself.
Stem cells are not always working to repair the body, however. The cells lay dormant until they are signaled to wake up and start repairing injured tissue.
“When the body sustains an injury caused by trauma or illness, the cells in the area of the injury send out signals to alert nearby quiescent, or ‘sleeping,’ stem cells to wake up. These signals are sent in the form of growth factors that tell the cells where to go and tell the body to send blood and other nutrients needed for repair,” Singer said.
Understanding that the key to beginning repair of the glial and neural cells of the brain was waking them up, the Cambridge researchers wanted first to understand what caused the cells to sleep, or go dormant.
Using the drosophila, a small fruit fly with DNA that is very similar to human, the researchers found a gene known as tribbles that caused the G2 cells of the fruit fly to become dormant.
The next step in their research is to determine the best way to block the tribbles gene from activating and putting the G2 cells to sleep.
The scientists also believe sleeping stem cells reside in other tissues and organs, too.
“Identifying these powerful cells could mean healing potential for tissues that don’t heal themselves,” Singer said.
The brain is not the only hard-to-heal organ that the Cambridge researchers have studied. Earlier this year, scientists from the school created a stem cell patch with the goal of repairing heart muscle damaged by heart attack.
“Like the brain, the heart muscle is slow to heal or does not heal at all. This leaves heart attack patients at risk for a second heart attack and death,” Singer said.
Science Alert. Scientists Have Discovered a New Stem Cell That Could Heal Brain Damage. 7 April 2018.
Alzheimer’s Association. 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts And Figures. 2018.