Posted on Feb 01, 2012, 6 a.m.
For the first time ever, stem cells from umbilical cords have been converted into other types of cells, paving the way for new treatment options for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, among other nervous system diseases.
For the first time ever, stem cells from umbilical cords have been converted into other types of cells, which may eventually lead to new treatment options for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, among other nervous system diseases. James Hickman, from the University of Central Florida (Florida, USA), and colleagues set out to transform umbilical stem cells into oligodendrocytes – critical structural cells that insulate nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The team discovered that other research groups had found components on oligodendrocytes that bind with the hormone norephinephrine, suggesting the cells normally interact with this chemical and that it might be one of the factors that stimulates their production. In early tests, the team found that norepinephrine, along with other stem cell growth promoters, caused the umbilical stem cells to differentiate into oligodendrocytes. However, that conversion was limited and did not yield therapeutically viable cells. The researchers then devised a three-dimensional environment in which they grew cells that were able to fully mature into oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes produce myelin, which insulates nerve cells, making it possible for them to conduct the electrical signals that guide movement and other functions. Loss of myelin leads to multiple sclerosis and other related conditions such as diabetic neuropathy. Further research may discover ways to inject the cells at the point of a spinal cord injury to promote repair, and the injection of new, healthy oligodendrocytes might improve the condition of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Hedvika Davis, Xiufang Guo, Stephen Lambert, Maria Stancescu, James J. Hickman. “Small Molecule Induction of Human Umbilical Stem Cells into Myelin Basic Protein Positive Oligodendrocytes in a Defined Three-Dimensional Environment.” ACS Chemical Neuroscience, Jan. 18, 2012.