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First report of stem cell signal of intention to become specific neuron

Scientists at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago have discovered an important shortcut to creating a more efficient, more reliable, and safer source of stem cells with the ability to turn into specific neurons or brain cells. Paul Carvey, PhD, chairman of pharmacology at Rush, used his team's discovery to clone several generations of stem cells that, when grafted into the brains of rats with a Parkinson's like disease, developed into healthy dopamine neurons. This effectively cured the animals' severe Parkinsonian symptoms. The ability to clone large numbers of stem cells that would become neurons also has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and numerous other diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system.

The findings, and their clinical significance, were presented at the Experimental Biology 2002 meetings in New Orleans last month.

This study is the first to identify the signal that instructs stem/progenitor cells to become dopamine neurons, the cells that degenerate in the brain of patients with Parkinson's disease.

The research team found that the primary signal responsible for determining that a progenitor cell will become a neuron is Interleukin 1, a member of the general class of molecules called cytokines, which are responsible for determining when blood stem cells differentiate into blood cells.

Being able to read the stem cells' intention enabled Carvey to select cells already committed to becoming neurons and to clone only those stem cells for transplantation. "We let the body do its own thing," he says. "We watched while it ran these stem cells down the lineage restriction pathways until the cells were almost neurons. Then we grabbed those cells, and only those cells, for our cloning activity."

Such specificity is important for two reasons, he adds. First, you want to produce large quantities of cells that will become the cells
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Contact: Chris Martin
cmartin@rsh.net
312-942-7820
Rush University Medical Center
9-May-2002


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