Got Stem Cells on the Brain?

on 07.27.2017 / by Daniel Thrasher / 0 comments in News, Research, Thoughts

As we’ve mentioned before, Burst Biologics has its own lab and a staff of Ph.Ds working to make contributions to science, but we also follow what’s going on in our industry as a whole. There have been some amazing developments in the fields of biology and regenerative medicine over the last few years, like this exciting new study released in Stem Cell Journal on July 11 about the use of neural stem cells in the brain.

We thought the study was so interesting that we wanted to pass it along to you! 

Moving Neural Stem Cells

Human neural stem cells

Picture a big brick building on the riverfront. You walk up to it and notice that one corner of the building has suffered some serious water damage, probably from a recent flood. To fix the problem, you’ll have to redo some of the masonry, and in order to do that, you need to get bricks to the construction site.

Unfortunately, moving bricks poses a bit of a challenge. Access to the site by land is restricted, and the water is flowing the wrong way for an easy trip by boat. As you ponder the situation, you quickly realize that it doesn’t matter how well-made your bricks are – they won’t do any good unless you can get them where they’re needed.

In the case of the study “Electrical Guidance of Human Stem Cells in the Rat Brain,” researchers were faced with a similar dilemma: how do you get viable neural stem cells to the part of the brain where they can actually be useful in repairing damaged brain tissue?

An Electric Idea

What these scientists found was that they could mobilize and guide neural stem cells in the brain in vivo through electric stimulation.

They transplanted human neural stem cells (hNSCs) into the rostral migration stream (RMS). This pathway is a mechanism in the brain unique to certain animals, including rodents, rabbits, and monkeys. (Humans have one too, but it’s nowhere near as substantial as in other mammals, particularly rats.)

Along this special migratory route, neurons can differentiate once they reach the olfactory bulb (OB). However, with the application of an electric field, transplanted cells migrated against the endogenous cues. In other words, instead of going toward the OB, these neural stem cells moved deeper into the brain.

Intermittent electrical current drives human neural stem cells

In the case of our brick building scenario, it would be like moving bricks to the construction site against a river current. You’d obviously need a special kind of boat to get there, and any effort would pose its own challenges. For example, if you used an electric-powered speedboat, you would have to confront the other unique difficulty in this case, which is working safely with electricity.

The reality is, you don’t want to introduce a direct current electric field to the brain. This would induce a dangerous, potentially brain-frying Joule effect – and we doubt these rats did anything to deserve the electric chair!

As an alternative, the researchers devised an intermittent electric field technique that minimized the detrimental effects and still managed to guide the migration of hNSCs and maintain cell viability. With this strategy in place, no animals suffered seizures or other obvious complications from the electric fields.

What Researchers Found

The ultimate results of the study were well worth noting. In looking at the rat brains at three weeks and again at four months after the electrical stimulation, researchers saw that NSCs had migrated from the injection site to the lateral ventricle (LV) region and the contralateral hemisphere of the brain, against intrinsic guidance mechanisms. What’s more, the effect of the electric stimulation continued to work even after the stimulation stopped!

Obviously, there’s a lot more to this study than we can delve into here, but the fundamental idea behind it is fascinating to consider. There may be profound implications for healing brain damage and reversing degenerative brain conditions in humans.

It also goes to show that there’s nothing more exciting than thinking up novel solutions to problems that have confounded scientists in the past, especially as new technology becomes available.

As our lab techs and researchers approach new challenges, these are the kinds of stories that inspire us – and we hope they inspire you too!

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