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Adult Human Stem Cells Used to Make Brain Cells

August 03, 2005
By Naseem Sowti

Swedish researchers have used adult human stem cells to generate functioning brain cells. Although their research is still at preliminary stages, it has the potential to open doors to effective treatments for neurological damages and diseases and dodge the moral and ethical issues surrounding research using embryonic stem cells.

Ulf Westerlund, a researcher at Stockholm Karolinska Institute, reported in a five-chapter thesis that scientists obtained stem cells harmlessly from the brains of living patients and were able to grow these cells into working neurons, or brain cells, in rats' spinal cords.

There are few studies involving stem cells drawn from the brains of adult humans. "We're excited about the early findings," said Leif Havton, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles who has been collaborating with Westerlund's group.

The human spinal cord and brain are made up of cells called neurons. If damaged, these cells typically do not regenerate and can lead to syndromes, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or paralysis resulting from spinal cord or brain injuries.

"This [research] could lead to finding a repair strategy for spinal cord injuries," or treatments in which the damaged cells can be replaced by adult stem cells that will be obtained from other living adults or the patient, Havton said. "These are very interesting cells, but we need more time to study them and compare them to other cells," he said, stressing that their work has yet to be peer-reviewed or published.

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