A “holy grail” in spinal injury research is to repair the spinal cord with newly minted nerve cells. This study published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience takes us a major leap forward, with the first evidence that cells from an umbilical cord — not from a fetus — can be transformed into active nerve cells. This eliminates any ethical concerns about using a fetus for medical applications.
From the Abstract:
Umbilical cord stem cells would be a favorable alternative to embryonic stem cells for therapeutic applications. In this study, human multipotent progenitor cells (MLPCs) from umbilical cord were differentiated into oligodendrocytes by being exposed to a range of microenvironmental chemical and physical cues. Chemical cues were represented by a novel defined differentiation medium containing the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (NE). Under traditional two-dimensional conditions, the MLPCs differentiated into oligodendrocyte precursors but did not progress further. However, in a three-dimensional environment, the MLPCs differentiated into committed oligodendrocytes that expressed myelin basic protein. The apparent method of interaction of NE in stimulating the differentiation process was shown to occur through the adenergic pathway, while all prior differentiation methods have used other routes. This novel method of obtaining functional human oligodendrocytes from MLPCs would eliminate many of the difficulties associated with their differentiation from embryonic stem cells.
The key to the transformation was to use the chemical norepinephrine, normally released by brain cells (oligodendrocytes) under stress along with a three dimensional environment.
This is amazing!