Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

i-ba2ecfb20fe9dd6a8c253c8c97c886af-chop.bmp Remember that scene in ‘Karate Kid’ when Daniel-San walked in on Mr. Miyagi trying to catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks? In response to Daniel-San asking what the heck he was doing, Mr. Miyagi replied cryptically, “He who catch fly with chopstick can do anything.” (Or something like that.) Oh, Mr. Miyagi’s wise wise words have proven true in yet another instance.

Reported in this week’s Economist (hat tip Bob Abu for the scan), is fascinating story of science meets serendipity. A Chinese woman was admitted to Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, with a chopstick in her brain (!)—specifically the inferior prefrontal subcortex. The chopstick was removed by a Dr. Zu, who took the opportunity to culture the brain tissue that came out with the chopstick. He wanted to verify whether there existed adult neural stem cells there.

The cultured tissue thrived, and many of the resultant cells contained proteins that were characteristic of neural stem cells. In order to make sure they were really stem cells, Dr. Zu cultured cells in isolation and watch and see if it divides into daughter cells. He found that about 4% of the ‘chopstick cells’ went on to form neurospheres (a ball of daughter cells), indicating that they were stem cells. Inspired, Dr. Zu began collecting tissue for various other patients who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and tried to derive neural stem cells from them as well. 16 out of 22 patients successfully yielded stem cells; tissue from the inferior prefrontal subcortex (the chopstick injured area) seem to be the best source. (Continued under the fold……)

The next question was whether the brain-derived neural stem cells could be used therapeutically. Stem cells derived from a person’s own body would not face the threat of being rejected by the immune system. Dr. Zu first conducted the study in mice who were immuno-suppressed. He injected human neural stem cells cultured from his patients into mouse brains, and discovered that they successfully differentiated into the right kinds of cells in the brain. Also, the nerve cells were functional–they were able to form synapses and conduct electrical impulses.

Next was injured mouse brains. The purpose here was to determine if the cultured stem cells could “track” to the site of injury and repair the damage. In order to track the injected cells, Dr. Zu’s lab attached magnetic particles to them and injected them with a dye. Following injection, they observed that the cultured cells did move to the injured area (they had induced a stoke in these mice.) The last animal trial was in monkeys, to test the safety of the therapy in an animal model similar to people. It was important to verify that the therapy did not cause cancer or any other nasty side effect. No cancer or warning signs were seen.

Finally, people! They transplanted cultured neural stem cells derived from 8 patients with brain injuries back into those same patients’ brains. They then asked a separate group of neurologists to blindly examine these experimental patients and compare them with un-treated control patients who also had similar injuries. The treated patients had lower disability scores (a good thing), possibly paving the way for this therapy to be used clinically. And all because of one mis-aimed chopstick!


  1. #1 aLvIn
    December 5, 2006

    Hi! As one of the group of avid readers that stops over this blog in his daily procastination (before the lab advisor come chasing with a cattle prod), I felt compelled to note that mayb that was previously reported in ??


  2. #2 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 5, 2006

    That’s all very interesting with the stem cells and all, but how did a chopstick get into that woman’s brain?

  3. #3 Roy
    December 5, 2006

    No doubt!
    I like to think that I’m pretty decent with a set of chopsticks, but even when I was just learning, I can’t imagine how I’d end up with one lodged in my brain.
    How would you even get it through the skull?
    Unless… through the nose?
    Oh, God. According to the article aLvin linked, through the eye. *shudder*

    This is really exciting, to me. I look forward to seeing what kinds of patients/what sorts of damage this kind of treatment ends up being effective with.

  4. #4 Joshua
    December 5, 2006

    WOW! Fabulous stem cell news, indeed.

  5. #5 AG
    December 5, 2006

    hmm, Human brain stem cells get into mice brain. Does that make mouse smarter?

  6. #6 Alain
    December 5, 2006

    Does a paper (peer-reviewed) have been published on that ?


  7. #7 Shelley Batts
    December 5, 2006

    Previously reported perhaps, but did they have Karate Kid references? Plus, who reads SEED anyhoo :D??

    Alain, yep a paper has been published, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

  8. #8 Alain
    December 6, 2006

    Thanks you very much, I didn’t get to find the paper but I’ll try again this week-end.


  9. #9 Robert P.
    December 7, 2006

    perhaps the bad guy in Karate Kid Part II stuck her with the chopstick before getting his butt whooped?

  10. #10 Brian
    December 7, 2006

    I can’t imagine how I’d end up with one lodged in my brain

    Million-to-one shot, Doc, million-to-one…

  11. #11 kobrain
    December 21, 2006

    Can you give the name of article in New England Journal of Medicine that did it? I am so curious and doubt the truth

  12. #12 Alain
    December 31, 2006

    Took me a long time (I’m busy as h*ll) but I finally found it:


New comments have been disabled.