Brain cells can be repaired, research suggests

Scientists from Queensland University of Technology in Australia are working on turning bone marrow stem cells into neural stem cells, capable of repairing the damage caused by strokes, head injuries and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Their research, published in Developmental Biology, offers hope that damaged brain cells could be replaced by other adult stem cells, The Australian reports.

Currently when parts of the brain are damaged, other sections simply take over their role. It’s been known for a while that other adult stem cells could actually replace the function of these lost neural cells, but scientists have previously struggled to find a replicable way of turning stem cells into neural cells in sufficient quantities to heal someone’s brain.

To overcome this hurdle, the scientists from QUT used salts and biological chemical to raise levels of certain surface proteins known as heparin sulfate proteoglycans in the stem cells. “These proteins are involved in cellular processes like cell division,” Rachel Okolicsanyi, the lead author of the study from QUT, told The Australian.

“If we can encourage those pathways, we’ll get a higher proliferation rate of the cells. And if we can grow more stem cells and encourage them along a particular lineage, we’ll get a higher percentage that can become neuronal.”

It’ll still be a few years before we see this technique lead to therapeutic treatments for brain injuries and disease, but it’s a pretty huge first step.

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