Israeli scientists use stem cells to reverse brain defects

Growth of new cells in a heroin damaged brain
New brain cells (green) induced in a heroin damaged brain by transplantation of neural stem cells
(source: Hebrew University of Jersusalem)

Medical scientist Joseph Yanai and his colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Duke University in the US have found that they can reverse brain birth defects in mice using embryonic stem cells.

Neural defects that lead to learning disabilities are particularly difficult to treat as the substances responsible for the abnormalities act throughout the brain. With nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, the effects are more local.

Embryonic neural stem cells migrate in the brain, seek out the deficiency that causes the defect, and divide into the types of cells needed to repair the damage. In this way, Yanai and his fellow researchers were able to reverse brain birth defects in the offspring of pregnant mice exposed to organophosphate pesticide and diamorphine (heroin). They did this by transplanting stem cells directly into the brains of the foetal mice.

The scientists are now looking for a less invasive way of administering stem cells, in order to develop a clinically feasible therapy. The full results of the research will be presented next year in Barcelona at the seventh annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.