New Discovery could Speed Up Research Aimed at Solving ALS and Other Nerve Disorders

Stem cells derived from neural crest could be ideal for researchers in studying how cells affect development and disease. This embryonic structure found in vertebrates gives rise to many tissues and organs, including most of the peripheral nervous system. However, it has been difficult to find a reliable source for enough of these cells to satisfy researchers’ needs. Work by a team of US scientists could soon change that. “We have found a way that, with a bit more fine-tuning, could potentially lead to an unlimited source for neural crest (NC) cells — including Schwann cells, which are the supporting cells of the peripheral nervous system. This could prove critical in helping solve the riddle of ALS and other neurodegenerative disorders,” said Dr. Xianmin Zeng of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, California (US). Their study is published in the April issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

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Durham, NC (PRWEB) April 17, 2012

Stem cells derived from neural crest could be ideal for researchers in studying how cells affect development and disease. This embryonic structure found in vertebrates gives rise to many tissues and organs, including most of the peripheral nervous system. However, it has been difficult to find a reliable source for enough of these cells to satisfy researchers’ needs.

Work by a team of US scientists could soon change that.

“We have found a way that, with a bit more fine-tuning, could potentially lead to an unlimited source for neural crest (NC) cells — including Schwann cells, which are the supporting cells of the peripheral nervous system. This could prove critical in helping solve the riddle of ALS and other neurodegenerative disorders,” said Dr. Xianmin Zeng of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, California (US). Their study is published in the April issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Much of the current information on neural development comes from studying organisms such as chicken and zebrafish, as human NC is difficult to obtain because of its transient nature. Although past studies on NC cell production examined ways to induce them from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), in general the results were unsatisfactory as not enough cells were produced and most did not differentiate (that is, turn into other cells) properly.

However, the Zeng team showed that treating the hESCs with a combination of growth factors in medium conditioned on connective tissue cells not only generated a large number of NC cells that could be purified using cell surface markers to prepare them for use in research, but that they could then be propagated in vitro and frozen for storage without losing their differentiation ability. The authors also showed that the same procedure could be used for isolating NC from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which made it possible for disease mechanism studies and personalized medicine.

“This demonstrated that gene function studies and disease modeling can be readily performed in this population of cells,” Dr. Zeng said. “They also have potential for use in cell therapy and drug screening, too.

“We acknowledge that our protocols currently are not xeno-free (free of foreign material), but we believe we can easily extend these observations to make clinical grade peripheral nervous system derivatives as well,” she added.

Dr. Anthony Atala, Editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, calls the study a vital step toward creating a reliable NC cell model.

“Dr. Zeng and her team have developed a process to generate large numbers of cells of the neural crest lineage,” he said. “These cells have the potential to be used in cell therapy and also for drug screening.”

Dr. Zeng and colleagues at the Buck Institute collaborated on the study with scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore, Maryland), Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) and the National Center for Regenerative Medicine, National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland).

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The full article, “Human Neural Crest Stem Cells Derived from Human ESCs and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: Induction, Maintenance, and Differentiation into Functional Schwann Cells,” can be accessed at: http://www.stemcellstm.com/content/early/recent.


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