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Man-Made Motor Neurons
January 23, 2003
Stem cells can develop into any of the cells in the body, including the nerve cells that control muscle movement, called motor neurons. You might think then, that stem cells could be used to treat conditions like brain or spinal cord injuries, or brain diseases such as Parkinson’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. The problem is that when you implant stem cells into most areas of the brain or spinal cord, only a few stem cells usually develop into nerve cells. A recent study, however, provides new hope for future treatments.

Brain scientists found that a particular type of stem cells, called human neural stem cells (hNSCs), can be induced to grow into motor neurons at levels higher than before. This image shows results from a test of their procedure.

They used a protein cocktail containing two proteins and one sugar-like molecule that are important for nerve cell development. The hNSCs were soaked in the protein cocktail, labeled with a green fluorescent protein, and implanted into the spinal cord of adult rats. One month later, the cord with the new cells was collected and motor neurons were stained with a red fluorescent dye.

In this image, the cells that are red are the original motor neurons from the rat. More importantly, the cells that appear yellow-orange are those that were labeled with both the green and red fluorescent dyes. These yellow-orange cells developed from hNSCs into motor neurons. The green cells are cells that developed from the hNSCs, but are not motor neurons. As you can see in this small sample, numerous yellow-orange cells are visible, showing that more than just a few of the hNSCs were able to develop into motor neurons.

For more information, see Stem Cell Shakes.

image: Ping Wu, Department of Anatomy & Neurosciences, University of Texas Medical Branch

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