New Cells Mean New Hope
Posted on March 28, 2019
Researchers at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine at the University of Luxembourg, in conjunction with scientists from the German Cancer Research Center, shared their recent success in rejuvenating neural stem cells.
The revitalized stem cells helped to improve areas of injury or disease in the brains of older mice.
The study authors hope that their research will serve as a catalyst for new studies in regenerative medicine and help spur the future development of new stem cell therapies for neurological conditions.
The study, published in the journal Cell, shows the stem cells, the cells that are the foundation of all the tissues and organs of the body, lose their ability to regenerate with age. Researchers have found that, in many cases, aged stem cells slip into a state of quiescence, or a period of dormancy, over time.
To follow the changes in stem cells behavior over time, the researchers tracked neural stem cells using computational models. Their modeling tracked the actions of the cells, how they interacted with other cells, and how they interacted with extra-cellular components in their environment.
During their research, the scientists identified which proteins were responsible for the functional state of stem cells in a specific area, or niche. Identifying these proteins can help researchers understand what causes some neural stem cells to go into dormancy.
One protein identified in the model was sFRP5. The researchers found the sFRP5 prevented neural stem cells from activating in old mice. This protein also prevents stem cells from regenerating by blocking the Wnt pathway, a process crucial for stem cell differentiation and proliferation.
To model the influence of sFRP5 protein, the researchers computed how cells would behave if sFRP5 was neutralized. Once the protein was stopped, the inactive stem cells were able to begin proliferating.
With the stem cells reactivated, the ratio of active to dormant stem cells increased and the brains of the older test mice became very similar to those of young mice.
The researchers hope that their work can help to develop new stem cell-based therapies for treating neurodegenerative diseases, as well as other conditions.
Neurodegenerative disease is the umbrella term for a range of conditions that affect the neurons in the brain.
Neurons are the building blocks of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. Neurons usually do not regenerate themselves if injured or affected by illness. When damaged, they often die off, leaving patients severely impaired.
Neurodegenerative diseases include conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, the muscles and movement.
Other well-known neurodegenerative conditions include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
“Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable and often debilitating conditions,” said Dr. Joel Singer, a New York personal cell physician.
As these diseases have no cure and the neurons affected die off over time, many affected see changes to their ability to move, a condition known as ataxias, along with a decline in their mental function and cognitive abilities, known as dementia.
Cognitive decline is responsible for the most significant portion of neurodegenerative diseases, with Alzheimer’s disease making up nearly three-quarters of dementia cases.
“When cognitive decline begins as a result of a neurodegenerative disease, things such as memory loss, mood swings, personality changes and changes in the ability to care for oneself can occur,” Singer said.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences estimates that millions of people are living with neurodegenerative diseases around the world, many of which are undiagnosed.
“In many cases, these conditions develop very slowly over long periods,” Singer said.
University of Luxembourg. “Scientists rejuvenate stem cells in the aging brain of mice: Regenerative medicine.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2019.