Stem Cells and the Aging Brain

Aging is a part and parcel of life, but as our body ages, our brains age too. Just like an aging body can be riddled with diseases and illnesses like arthritis, cataracts, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, an aging brain too can be afflicted with sickness. The age-associated diseases that affect the brain are often clustered under the umbrella-term of ‘neurodegeneration’. Diseases like Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are some of the better known disorders that fall under this terminology.

Let us first understand what the term ‘neurodegeneration’ actually encompasses. The Oxford Dictionary defines neurodegeneration as the “Degeneration of the nervous system, especially of neurons in the brain”. According to the EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), the nervous system of the human body comprises of neurons. In case they suffer damage, they do not possess the ability to repair, replace or reproduce themselves. This inability results in neurodegenerative diseases.

Previously, neurodegenerative diseases were believed to be incurable. However, with the gigantic steps towards advancement that medical science has taken in the recent years, scientists have been able to devise procedures that help in assisting individuals suffering from neurodegenerative disease. Stem cell therapy is among these advanced procedures that have recently shown positive results.

These cells are mother or master cells that have the ability to differentiate into other types of specialized cells through the process of mitosis. They can repair internal tissue damage by developing into a cell with a specialized function like a blood cell or brain cell. They also possess the ability to renew themselves.

Utilizing these type of cells to treat medical disorders and diseases is known as stem cell therapy. Transplantation of stem cells is the most common procedure used in this cell therapy. In cases of brain degeneration, stem cells are transplanted into the patient. These cells then become progenitor cells that work within the brain to maintain the neuron functions. Research has been conducted on animal models for diseases like Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, which have provided optimistic outcomes.

In a symposium organized by EuroStemCell, Magdalena Götz, PhD, Helmholtz Zentrum München, spoke about the radial glial cells which are present in the neural stem cells and described them as “they look like glia, they smell like glia but they are actually the neural stem cells.” She further explained the development of brain cells and the possibility of guiding neural stem cells to locate and repair the injury site inside the brain, while also regenerating neurons.

Stem cell research is the future of neurology. With several clinical studies being conducted year after year, the use of the cells in this therapy in treating neurological disorders is constantly expanding. In India, the guidelines established by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) for conducting clinical studies have been revolutionised leading to extensive research being done in the field of stem cell therapy.

Secrets of Stem Cells in Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

Multiple Sclerosis is a disorder in which a persons own immune mechanisms attack the nervous system(myelin sheath of the nerve cells is inflamed) and leads to disability, blindness and sometimes even paralysis. This was first identified as a disease as far back as 1860s; nevertheless the exact reason for this disease is still a mystery. There are several factors that are thought to actually contribute to the disease, which changes itself as different symptoms that can show as so minor and are not recognized, and most often they can leave a person fully disabled or dead.

Several people around the globe suffer from this disease, doctors and researchers are in the process of finding out the reason for this disease. But more importance is given in finding out a cure. Recently a treatment called as stem cell therapy, has received a lot of attention from the scientific world.There is a lot of research on stem cells its cure, which are showing amazing results.

Recent technological advancement in stem cell research has shown that it is possible to reverse the symptoms of multiple sclerosis with stem cells replacement. As this is still in the laboratory stage some measure of success has been achieved in independent studies conducted at several independent Universities and Research Centers.

In this therapy, stem cells are introduced into the patient’s body. Stem cells are naive (immature) cells which can be extracted from the placenta. They have the ability to form into many several types of cells like skin, bone, eye cells etc., As these are injected into the body they start secreting a growth factor, and these growth factors form new blood cells in the blood vessels.Which are healthy and active, they replace the diseased cells in the patient. These new cells keep on increasing in number until disease causing cells are completely replaced with the healthy cells. This process is far better than any painful surgery or chemotherapy or radio therapy. Furthermore this treatment is cost effective when compared to other treatments and is safe in all the ways, as the patients own stem cells are used in most of the cases i.e they are removed from the patient’s own bone marrow are then injected back into the blood stream.

One of the drawbacks of this treatment is that this technology is not accessible in all parts of the globe mostly in developed countries. One has to travel any one of these countries for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

While the results from this therapy are impressive, the treatment of multiple sclerosis with stem cells is still in its early stages and much research needs to be held. Researchers are in the process to confirm, if the immune system can actually be completely reset or if it is suppressed as a chronic condition. We should be very optimistic that this type of therapy will help those patients in the advanced stages.