Researchers have developed a way of isolating neural stem cells with unmatched precision from brain tissue. Neural stem cells are cells which can develop into all brain cell types. The research is a major move toward the development of new therapies for nervous system condition, such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as spinal cord injury.
Neural stem cells straight from the brain are able to renew themselves with the potential to develop into a variety of brain cell types, such as neurons that can help individuals with Parkinson’s, or oligodendrocytes which could help individuals with multiple sclerosis. But neural stem cells become scarce in the brain after the 1st few months of embryonic development, and it’s difficult for researchers to locate and manipulate them.
The isolation of human fetal stem cells requires months of cultivation of brain tissue in tissue culture in the laboratory, then the separation of the stem cells for study. Not just stem cells are separated out, progenitor cells, similar cells which have already committed to being a certain kind of cell, are captured as well.
This new method captures only neural stem cells and does so directly from the tissue in the brain. The ability to more efficiently collect human cells should help potential treatments built around stem cell transplanting. The use of human neural stem cells in the nervous system has recently started in children having incurable brain diseases called pediatric leukodystrophies.
The new method is developed around some DNA which codes for a protein called Sox2, which is known to be a major stem cell gene. As the gene is only active in stem cells, the key is finding a method to isolate and see cells having an active Sox2 gene. The researchers identified the DNA sequence called an enhancer, which determines if Sox2 is active in neural stem cells.