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Researchers Seek New Way to Treat Damaged Brain Cells - 2004-07-29

Stroke is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. So far, there is no cure. But, researchers say they are making progress toward a treatment involving the regrowth of brain cells.

It has long been thought that injecting new nerve cells into areas of brains where cells have died due to disease, as in stroke, could cure illness. But in previous experiments, transplanted cells have withered because of the massive immune reaction the body immediately mounts at the site of an injury.

But scientists have found a different approach to transplantation, one that promises to make therapy possible.

Researchers at Stanford University in California injected fresh human nerve cells into the stroke-damaged brains of rats near the injured site instead of into the injured tissue itself. The new cells survived and thrived, and began to move toward the damaged brain cells, where they presumably would begin to repair the assault caused by stroke.

Gary Steinberg is chairman of Stanford University's department of neurosurgery and senior author of a study on the new approach to treating damaged cells.

"It is a real step towards making this therapy useful to show that cells can perform in this way in an injured brain," he said.

Walter Low of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul has conducted similar brain research using human stem cells derived from bone marrow. Researchers in Dr. Low's lab have restored some movement in experimental animals disabled by stroke.

Investigators at Stanford are now working to see whether they can repair brain damage to the point of movement.

Dr. Low says it is possible both therapies may one day prove useful for stroke patients and others affected by movement disorders.

"I think at the present time, they appear to be fairly similar," he said. "And I do not know if there is really any one advantage of one cell line over another at the present time. I think future research will tell us whether one cell type will be better for one indication or another."

Research on the use of human nerve cells in rats is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.