A team of US researchers has discovered a way to make human fetal stem cells grow into adult nerve cells when implanted into rat brains and spinal cords. Their findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, could pave the way for the development of new stem cell therapies for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Previous attempts to graft fetal nerve stem cells have failed, as most don't develop properly into working brain cells. But by pre-treating the cells with different combinations of proteins, the scientists hit upon a mixture of three that appears to overcome this problem. 'We used proteins involved in the development of neurons to point them in the right direction before they are engrafted' said team member Professor Ping Wu of the University of Texas, Galveston. Although the transplanted cells grew into exactly the right sort of cell for the area of brain they were put into, the researchers now need to find out if the nerve cells can make contact with the right targets in the body.
Another new stem cell study suggests it may eventually be possible to use adult bone marrow stem cells to repair heart muscle damage caused by heart attacks. UK researchers treated 14 heart attack patients with their own bone marrow cells, and found that their hearts were able to pump blood more efficiently within weeks of treatment. They presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, held in Chicago, US last week.