Stem cells from bone marrow function in rat brains

Lab rodent experiments point to stroke therapy

November 25, 1999|By NEWSDAY

In search of ways to rebuild the brain, scientists have injected stem cells from bone marrow into the brains of rats and mice to see whether the cells, which continuously divide to rebuild tissue in the marrow, could do the same thing for the brain.

To the surprise of Michael Chopp, a neuroscientist at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, the experiment paid off: The stem cells performed like neurons and, what's more, eventually became functioning neurons able to reverse some of the brain damage associated with stroke in animals.

"We had this wild idea and we gave it a shot," said Chopp, who recently presented his findings to a packed audience of colleagues at the Society of Neuroscience annual meeting in Miami.

Other researchers say they've discovered similar results but would not discuss the details because their work has been submitted for publication.

If true, the implications are enormous. What if bone marrow could be removed from a patient's thigh bone in the hours after a stroke -- or any type of brain trauma -- and injected into the brain to protect from subsequent damage?

These cells "could literally reconstruct the brain," Chopp said.

This finding comes on the heels of dozens of reports in a new era in brain treatment: cellular repair or replacement.

The idea is to harvest immature cells called stem cells that have yet to differentiate and grow into adult cells.

Normally, cells are programmed to become specific types of cells, such as muscle cells, bone cells or brain cells.

But scientists now know that stem cells can be coaxed into becoming other cell types, which has led to an avalanche of work aimed at rejuvenating the adult brain.

"You wouldn't believe the claims scientists are making these days," said Fred Gage, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Gage was the first scientist to report finding new neurons in the brains of older adults. Previously, it was thought that the adult brain did not grow new neurons.

The neurons that Gage, and now others, found were in the dentate gyrus, an area of the hippocampus that regulates aspects of learning and memory.

"I am not being negative," Gage added. "I am just overwhelmed by all of these reports.

"There's a feeling these days that all bets are off and that anything is possible."

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