Search for body's 'repair kit' is medicine's Holy Grail

The importance of the latest study into brain repair is the power it gives scientists to pin-point the vital stem cells that are capable of developing into mature nerve cells.

The importance of the latest study into brain repair is the power it gives scientists to pin-point the vital stem cells that are capable of developing into mature nerve cells.

If scientists can harness stem cells in the brain it offers the prospect of regenerating nerve tissues that would otherwise remain damaged for life. It could lead to effective treatments and even cures for chronic debilitating conditions from inherited disorders such as Huntington's chorea to severe brain damage resulting from traffic accidents.

Stem cells, especially those in the brain, are one of the most enigmatic elements of the body. Scientists know they must exist but they do not have an easy way of finding and harnessing them.

Neuroscientists have also come to realise that the brain has an in-built mechanism of regeneration which uses stem cells. They hope to exploit this natural repair kit in future to mend damaged nerves.

For more than 20 years, stem cells have been the Holy Grail of medicine because of their ability to replicate almost indefinitely before they develop into one of the 200 or so specialised tissues of the body, from blood to nerves.

Yet it was only in 1998 that researchers published the first studies showing that it was possible to extract stem cells from human embryos and grow them in the laboratory.

Stem cells derived from early embryos are known to have the greatest ability to develop or "differentiate" into any of the specialised tissues of the body.

The stem cells found in adults have a somewhat similar though muted power of development. Those in the brain for instance are believed to be primarily programmed to turn into brain cells, while those in the bone marrow are designed to develop into blood cells.

If stem cells can be isolated and grown in the laboratory it offers hope of stimulating them with growth factors so they become the mature cells needed for transplant surgery, whether for treating a damaged heart or a defective brain.

However, one of the potential difficulties in using stem cells for transplant medicine is the possibility of tissue rejection. One way around this would be to clone an embryo from a skin cell and use the embryonic stem cells from this cloned embryo.

Work in this area is severely curtailed in many countries, including the US, which has banned the use of government funds for such research. This is one of the reasons why there is such interest in adult stem cells.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Life and Style
life
News
‘The Graduate’, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, was directed by Nichols in his purple period
people
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager