Embryonic stem cells have the potential to treat a range of diseases and conditions for which current treatment options are lacking. Capable of differentiating practically into all of the types of tissues in the human body, the cells could be used in therapies to treat conditions such as paralysis, brain damage, and Parkinson’s disease. Among the many challenges to be overcome before human embryonic stem cells live up to their promise is difficulty in proving whether transplanted stem cells can integrate successfully in vivo.
Researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison have announced progress on that front. Having created neurons from mouse embryonic stem cells, the researchers report that the cells were successfully transplanted into the hippocampus of the mice and were capable of both sending and receiving brain signals. The research marks progress towards the development of custom cells that could repair damaged or diseased brains.
“The big question was can these cells integrate in a functional way,” said Jason P. Weick, staff scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center in an announcement. “We show for the first time that these transplanted cells can both listen and talk to surrounding neurons of the adult brain.”
In the research, the scientists tapped the power of optogenetics to use light to stimulate neuronal activity. The use of light enables researchers to specifically stimulate only the transplanted cells non-invasively.
From the announcement:
The new study opens the door to the potential for clinicians to deploy light-based stimulation technology to manipulate transplanted tissue and cells. “The marriage between stem cells and optogenetics has the potential to assist in the treatment of a number of debilitating neurodegenerative disorders,” notes Su-Chun Zhang, a UW-Madison professor of neuroscience and an author of the new PNAS report. “You can imagine that if the transplanted cells don’t behave as they should, you could use this system to modulate them using light.”