Stem cells could help treat brain diseases

Zurich – For the first time researchers at the University of Zurich have been able to track how stem cells generate nerve cells over months. They hope that stem cells could one day be used to treat brain diseases.

Neuroscientists long believed that nerve cells taper off at the end of embryonic development. Later, researchers discovered that the human brain can generate nerve cells throughout its entire life span.

One area where this happens is the hippocampus, a brain structure that determines many types of learning and decides what is remembered and what is forgotten.

Researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH) and their international colleagues have now for the first time tracked over several months how neural stem cells divide and new neurons form.

In an experiment observing mice, they showed how most stem cells divide only for a few rounds before they mature into neurons. These findings revealed why the number of newborn cells dramatically declines with advancing age.

“In the past it was deemed technically impossible to follow single cell stem cells in the brain over time given the deep localization of the hippocampus in the brain,” commented UZH professor Sebastian Jessberger in a statement.

He added that their collaboration with researchers from different countries helped obtain and understand the data.

The researchers stated that this is just the beginning of many more experiments aimed at understanding how our brains are able to form new nerve cells. 

“In the future, we hope that we will be able to use neural stem cells for brain repair – for example for diseases such as cognitive aging, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease or major depression,” said Jessberger. 

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