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The cerebral cortex: we can rebuild it, we have the technology

brain gears

While the first actual bionic man (or woman) might still be a ways off, the writers of the show might be impressed at this. A international team of researchers, have just taken an important step in the area of cell therapy: repairing the cerebral cortex of the adult mouse using a graft of cortical neurons derived from embryonic stem cells.

So let’s talk about the cerebral cortex, it is one of the most complex structures in our brain. It is composed of about a hundred types of neurons organised into 6 layers and numerous distinct neuroanatomical and functional areas.

Brain injuries, whether caused by trauma or neurodegeneration, lead to cell death and is typically accompanied by considerable functional impairment. In order to overcome the limited ability of the neurons of the adult nervous system to regenerate spontaneously, cell replacement strategies employing embryonic tissue transplantation show attractive potential.

A major challenge in repairing the brain is obtaining cortical neurons from the appropriate layer and area in order to restore the damaged cortical pathways in a specific manner.

The results from this study shows, for the first time (using mice, not humans… yet) that pluripotent stem cells differentiated into cortical neurons make it possible to reestablish damaged adult cortical circuits, both neuroanatomically and functionally. Unfortunately, these results also suggest that damaged circuits can be restored only by using neurons of the same type as the damaged area, making it harder than it should be.

This study constitutes an important step in the development of cell therapy as applied to the cerebral cortex. The approach is still at the experimental stage (meaning it is being done with laboratory mice only) so you may be waiting awhile before you will see this at your local hospital trauma center. In fact there is still much research that is needed to be done before there is any clinical application in humans.

“The success of our cell engineering experiments, which make it possible to produce nerve cells in a controlled and unlimited manner, and to transplant them, is a world first.”

“These studies open up new approaches for repairing the damaged brain, particularly following stroke or brain trauma,” the team explains.

The practical applications for this research could be endless, the human brain, the thing that makes us… well us, has always been the sticking point in aging. Sure you can live longer, but what good is it if you can’t even remember your own name? While it’s still in it’s infancy this could mean new and innovative treatments for veterans suffering from TBI’s, there could be implications for alzheimer’s treatments, and this could potentially help solve other neurological issues brought on by autoimmune disease.

Sources:
Michelsen, K., Acosta-Verdugo, S., Benoit-Marand, M., Espuny-Camacho, I., Gaspard, N., Saha, B., Gaillard, A., & Vanderhaeghen, P. (2015). Area-Specific Reestablishment of Damaged Circuits in the Adult Cerebral Cortex by Cortical Neurons Derived from Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells Neuron, 85 (5), 982-997 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.02.001

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