In a major step in the stem cell study, the Swedish researchers have identified that the spinal cord may contain the stem cell that can be used to a new, non-surgical treatment for debilitating spinal-cord injuries. In a developing embryo, stem cells differentiate into all the specialized tissues of the body.

The tiny number of stem cells in the adult spinal cord proliferate slowly or rarely, and fail to promote regeneration on their own. However, recent experiments showed that these same cells, grown in the lab and returned to the injury site, could restore some function in paralyzed rodents and primates.

Researchers found that neural stem cells in the adult spinal cord make up the thin membrane lining the inner-brain ventricles and the connecting central column of the spinal cord. The study uncovers the molecular mechanism underlying the tantalizing results of the rodent and primate and goes one step further.  By identifying for the first time where this subpopulation of cells is found, they pave a path toward manipulating them with drugs to boost their inborn ability to repair damaged nerve cells.

Konstantinos Meletis, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and lead researcher of the study says:

“We have been able to genetically mark this neural stem cell population and then follow their behavior. We find that these cells proliferate upon spinal cord injury, migrate toward the injury site and differentiate over several months. The ependymal cells’ ability to turn into several different cell types upon injury makes them very interesting from an intervention aspect: Imagine if we could regulate the behavior of this stem cell population to repair damaged nerve cells.”

: One India