Stem cells taken from the brain of a 13-year-old girl were transplanted into newborn mice and developed into a variety of brain cells almost identical to the animals’ own — a procedure that someday could be used to replace the misfiring cells in some epilepsy patients, the researchers said.
Neural stem cells, immature cells that can develop into different cell types, can be isolated in the brain. In this study, presented at the American Epilepsy Society’s annual meeting, researchers isolated neural stem cells from a teenage girl who underwent surgery on her temporal lobe for epilepsy.
Those human cells then were infected with a harmless virus that turned them green so they could be identified under a microscope, and transplanted into the brains of newborn mice. After about three weeks, the human cells had taken the shape and form of the type of brain cells where they took root, the scientists said.
“That suggests that the transplanted human cells are integrating very well into this host circuitry,” said Dr. Steven Roper, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Florida. “At least some types of epilepsy are a result of abnormalities in the circuitry that makes up that part of the brain,” Roper said. “And a lot of these might be due to a loss of certain types of neurons in these regions … where the seizures start. If we could use cells to reconstitute those lost neurons, it might actually cure the epilepsy in some cases.”
The hope, says Roper, is that when people with brain damage undergo surgery, it may be possible to isolate stem cells from excised tissue. These could then be multiplied in the lab, turned into cell types from which the person might benefit, then returned to the brain.