Transforming Glial Cells into Neurons
While the concept of stem cell therapy is not new, scientists at Penn State University have finally unlocked an innovative method to regenerate functional neurons following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Gong Chen and his research team at Penn State used reactive glial cells, the building blocks of the central nervous system, to regenerate healthy and functional neurons in humans.
Neurons are pathways that transmit signals such as touch or pain to the brain. During head trauma such as TBI, neurons die off. In response to injury, glial cells become reactive and multiply. The glial cells rush in to prevent bacteria growth and to protect any healthy brain tissue. However, after the threat is gone, many glial cells remain and inhibit the remaining healthy neurons from growing in the injured region. These reactive glial cells form what is known as a glial scar.
Chen’s team worked on transforming these glial scars. Chen experimented with NeuroD1, a protein known for its success in stimulating neuron production. Chen’s team first concocted a NeuroD1 retrovirus that would invade the glial cells. They then injected the brains of mice with the retrovirus. Within one week, reactive glial cells had transformed into neurons in the mice. Further tests showed that these new neurons were capable of sending and receiving signals to/from other neurons in the central nervous system. Chen then replicated the experiment with human glial cells and saw rapid transformation after just 3 weeks.
Chen’s groundbreaking method will help individuals with TBI and other disorders to increase brain function. According to Chen, “Our dream is to develop this in vivo conversion method into a useful therapy to treat people suffering from neural injury or neurological disorders. Our passionate motivation for this research is the idea that an Alzheimer’s patient, who for a long time was not able to remember things, could start to have new memories after regenerating new neurons as a result of our in vivo conversion method, and that a stroke victim who could not even move his legs might start to walk again.”
Other Recent TBI Research Discoveries
Chen’s discovery is the most recent in a long line of developments in TBI treatment. In 2009, researchers announced that Alzheimer’s disease drugs designed to prevent neuron death can also prevent neuron death in TBI patients. In addition, Spanish scientists discovered in 2011 that the membrane surrounding the central nervous system can be a viable source of stem cells for use in the treatment of TBI. Scientists also found that glial scars serve some valuable use in that they constrict the brain injury site and act as defensive walls to prevent the spread of injury.
If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury due to someone else’s negligence and you are having difficulty affording necessary treatment and therapy, please consider contacting our brain injury lawyers.
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