Neural stem cells take a step closer to the clinic

MADISON - Scientists working with cells that may someday be used to replace diseased or damaged cells in the brain have taken neural stem cell technology a key step closer to the clinic.

Writing in the current online edition (June 2003) of the Journal of Neurochemistry, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Center describe the first molecular profile for human fetal neural stem cell lines that have been coaxed to thrive in culture for more than a year.

The work is an in-depth analysis of global gene expression in human neural stem cells and demonstrates a method for prolonging the shelf life of cultured fetal stem cells, making it possible to generate enough cells to use to treat disease, says Lynda Wright, the lead author of the paper.

"We have now characterized long-term neural stem cells lines," she says. "That genetic characterization - and our ability to grow these lines for a year or more - is one of the major steps toward clinical application."

Unlike human embryonic stem cells, stem cells derived from fetal tissue are not capable of growing in culture indefinitely. But because neural fetal stem cells have been available to science for a much longer period than cells derived from embryos, their capabilities are better known to scientists and they may reach the clinic as therapies for disorders like Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) much sooner.

In culture, the cells can be coaxed into becoming "neurospheres," aggregates of precursor brain cells that, when implanted, can migrate to different parts of the brain, integrate themselves and develop into many of the different types of specialized cells that make up the brain.

"These cells are the basis for future therapies. These are the cells we want to transplant," said Clive Svendsen, senior author of the Journal of Neurochemistry paper and a leading authority on neural stem cells.

But scientists have been limited by

Contact: Lynda Wright
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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