The University of California in Irvine
New reports indicate that real hope for 'miracle' treatments using adult stem cells is on the way for those suffering from diseases afflicting both the brain and the heart.
In California, researchers at the University of California in Irvine say they have discovered the method and mechanisms by which adult stem-cells can repair and replace damaged tissue in the brain. The discovery could lead to treatments for individuals with multiple sclerosis and other brain inflammation diseases.
"Previously, we've seen that adult neural stem cells injected into the spinal column knew, amazingly, exactly where to go," said Tom Lane, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and co-author with Kevin Carbajal of the new study. "We wanted to find what directed them to the right injury spots."
Lane and Carbajal's team experimented with mice whose central nervous systems were damaged by viruses in a way that imitated the effects of MS. The virus destroys myelin, a protective tissue that covers the nerves, resulting in chronic pain and loss of motor function.
They injected adult neural stem cells into the mice and observed that the inflamed cells activated receptors on the adult stem cells called CXCR-4 receptors. These receptors then gathered "chemokine proteins" (CXCL-12), which guided the adult stem cells to the damaged cells in need of repair.
As the adult stem cells made their journey through the brain, they transformed into precursor cells for oligodendrocytes, a key building block for myelin, that can both repair or replace the damaged tissues. Once latched onto the affected sites, the stem cells continued to differentiate, and after three weeks 90% of the cells had transformed into mature oligodendrocytes.
Lane stressed that not only did the work reaffirm the power of adult neural stem cells to improve the brain's motor function, but also provided a crucial stem cell roadmap for researchers looking to develop therapies for those suffering with MS.
"In this study, we've taken an important step by showing the navigational cues in an inflammatory environment like MS that guide stem cells," explained Lane. "Hopefully, these cues can be incorporated into stem cell-based treatments to enhance their ability to repair injury."
While advances have been made in treating the diseases of the head, a young girl is undergoing an experimental adult stem cell treatment that, if successful, would finally allow her to overcome a rare disease of the heart called Eisenmenger syndrome.
The News Tribune reports that Washington State resident Mailia Goforth, 16, has suffered from the disease since birth. The condition is caused by a structural defect in the heart, where blood flows through a hole in the heart wall. Additionally she suffers from secondary pulmonary hypertension because too much blood flows to her lungs; the blood vessels then constrict, putting even more strain on the heart. In Mailia's case, doctors identified her condition too late for normal surgical repair or even the more drastic measure of a double lung and heart replacement.
The teenager, however, is being treated in the Dominican Republic with stem cells derived from her own blood, which are injected into her lungs via a small catheter. If successful, the therapy – developed by Dr. Zannos Grekos, MD – would significantly reduce the pressure on Mailia's heart, and enable her to breathe freely. It would also theoretically allow surgeons to repair her heart.
The treatment has so far cost Mailia's parents $64,000. Forty-seven thousand of that amount was raised by the parents, with the rest being covered by a private charity. The family, however, expects that Mailia will need a second round of stem cell treatments in addition to the surgeries, which Grekos speculated to the Tribune could enable her to play sports one day.
The Tribune reports that the family has just $33 left, but they have set up a website MailiasMiracle.com http://mailiasmiracle.com/, which lets people know Mailia's story and how they can help.
Contact: Peter J. Smith
Publish Date: June 9, 2010
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