Scientists in Edinburgh have created the world’s first clutch of nerve stem cells in what could prove to be a major breakthrough in the race to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The cells were created in Edinburgh by the Institute for Stem Cell Research and the University of Milan.
A team led by Professor Austin Smith developed the cells at the Edinburgh University-based institution.
It is a breakthrough because it is the first time that scientists have been able to grow and sustain pure brain cells.
Until now, scientists had not been able to sustain the ability of neural stem cells to produce copies of themselves when grown in a dish. By changing the growth conditions for the cells, the Edinburgh and Milan labs have for the first time established pure stem cell divisions.
Researcher Steven Pollard said: “The purity of the cells, and the fact that they do not make tumours, means they should be valuable for studying the potential of transplantation to repair damage.”
The long-term aim of the research is that the cells will be used to build replacement neural tissue for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder with no known cause or cure, and Parkinson’s a disorder of the nervous system.
The most likely immediate use for the artificially-created cells is to test out the effectiveness of new drugs.
The scientists also hope that the cells will eventually help them to grow replacement brain tissue.
The new technology could also lessen the need for animal testing.