University of Florida Health researchers have successfully transplanted human stem cells in a mouse model, which developed into fully functional neurons. This is being seen as a promising advance in the direction of unlocking new treatments for epilepsy and other neurological disorders. According to Dr Steven N. Roper, a neurosurgeon and professor in the UF College of Medicine department of neurosurgery, the news is particularly encouraging because the human stem cells not only survived after the transplant but also developed into neurons that behaved normally within the brain.
Transplantation of this sort may someday prevent seizures among patients of epilepsy, marked by uncontrolled muscle contractions and even unconsciousness. Even when they are effective medications only control the symptoms of epilepsy. In severe cases, seizures are curtailed by surgically removing part of the brain.
In the study the human neural implants survived in a mouse model for eight weeks and developed into three types of interneurons or “connector” neurons. These are the neurons that could in the future be used to treat several neurological diseases. Among epilepsy patients the implanted cells could be deployed to create inhibitory neurons to soothe the firestorm of overexcited brain cells that trigger seizures.
“The study proves that human stem cells have the capability to provide the cell types required to treat many diseases. This is what makes us optimistic that these cells can eventually be used for treating a number of human conditions including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s that require superior control of brain function,” Roper said.
The big advantage with neural stem cells in the area of research into neurological disorders is that limitless quantities of them can be grown in labs, said Brent Reynolds, a professor in the department of neurosurgery. Although researchers have earlier implanted human neural stem cells the knowledge that they can ultimately bond with the brain and become active is crucial. However, there are still a number of challenges to be dealt with. The survival rate of transplanted cells was just 1 per cent, a figure Roper said is “fairly low” but can be improved. “We need to find out how to manage the fate of the transplanted neural stem so that we are able to use a specific type of neuron to treat a specific disease,” Roper said.