Pioneering Research Leads to Potential Treatment for Neurological Disorders
October 23, 2002

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Macon, Ga. — In a collaboration that spans the continent, researchers have found that pluripotent stem cells isolated from adult muscle can be induced to become cells specific to nervous tissue, both nerve cells and the supporting tissue called neuroglia. Their findings, published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience Research, open doors for patients with neurological disorders, who, in the future, may be able to use their own reserve pluripotent stem cells to grow new nerve cells and neuroglia.

The research team consists of Dr. Marie-Françoise Chesselet, Dr. Marina Romero-Ramos and Dr. Patrick Vourc'h of the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in collaboration with Dr. Henry E. Young of Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Ga., Dr. Paul A. Lucas, formerly of Mercer and now with New York Medical College, Valhalla, N.Y., and scientists at MorphoGen Pharmaceuticals Inc. in San Diego, Calif.

Mercer researchers, Young and Lucas, led the field in the identification, isolation and differentiation capabilities of reserve pluripotent stem cells from postnatal animals and humans. The adult pluripotent stem cells rival embryonic stem cells in their capacity to form many different cell types from a single cell.

"However, there are distinct differences between the two," said Young. "Growth of embryonic stem cells without inhibitory factors leads to uncontrolled spontaneous differentiation. Using these same growth conditions, adult pluripotent stem cells remain quiescent. This suggests a higher level of regulatory control for the adult stem cells."

This is important because transplantation of embryonic stem cells can lead to tumoral growth in living tissue, a problem not observed to date with adult pluripotent stem cells.

The adult pluripotent stem cells identified by Young and Lucas are easy to collect from a patient's skin, muscle or other easily accessible tissue sites, and are not limited in the types of cells and tissues they can produce. The adult pluripotent stem cells have extensive capabilities for self-renewal, allowing for the harvest of minimal amounts of tissue, while generating sufficient quantities of tissue for transplant. Using the patient's own pluripotent stem cells avoids the morbidity and mortality associated with the use of anti-rejection drugs, a necessity when transplanting tissue from unrelated donors.

Chesselet and colleagues determined the particular mixture of growth factors and experimental conditions necessary to convert adult pluripotent stem cells exclusively into neurons and neuroglia. "This is a significant early step towards using the patient's own pluripotent stem cells to replace damaged or missing neuronal tissue in neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, or Alzheimer's disease," said Young.

"I'm encouraged by Dr. Chesselet's findings," added Young. "Although her group's work is still early bench-level research, it helps pave the way for research at the clinical level."

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