Scientists make first pure brain stem cell
British scientists have made the world's first pure batch of brain stem cells that can help fight neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, reports the online edition of The Guardian.
Austin Smith of Edinburgh University's institute for stem cell research bathed stem cells taken from mouse embryos with two proteins called epidermal growth factor and fibroblast growth factor, both of which are known to be involved in the normal development of the embryonic brain.
After his team had shown the process turned embryonic mouse stem cells into brain stem cells, they repeated the experiment on human embryonic stem cells.
Brain stem cells have been grown before but the results have been impure. "You end up with a mixed culture at the end which has not just neural stem cells, it has a lot of contaminating embryonic stem cells," said Steve Pollard, one of the co-authors.
The work comes three months after scientists at Newcastle University cloned a human embryo using donated eggs and genetic material from stem cells. Human embryos were first cloned last year by South Korean scientists.
In the short term, the technique will allow scientists to develop cell cultures for their research.
"We'll use them in the basic biology sense to try to understand how stem cells work," Pollard said. "It's a good opportunity to understand what the difference is between an embryonic stem cell, which can make anything, and a brain stem cell, which can just make brain."
In the long term, the technology raises hopes of growing cells to replace damaged parts of the brain. But Smith said there was a long way to go: "We know these cells can survive if we put them back in the brain but whether they can do anything useful is a much more complicated question."
Through genetic modification, scientists will also use the technique to mimic brain diseases.