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Saturday, May 23, 2009
UB Scientists Develop Novel Method to Stimulate Growth of New Neurons in Adult Brain
Eureka! Age-long neurological disorders have finally met their match. University at Buffalo researchers, led by Michal Stachowiak, Ph.D., director of the Molecular and Structural Neurobiology and Gene Therapy, have identified a new mechanism that plays a central role in adult brain stem cell development and prompts brain stem cells to differentiate into neurons.
The research team set out to see if it is possible to generate a wave of new neurons from stem cells and direct them to the affected areas using a mouse model. Their discovery, known as Integrative FGFR1 Signaling (INFS), has fundamentally challenged the prevailing ideas of how signals are processed in cells during neuronal development. So what exactly does this mean?
In essence, the INFS mechanism is considered capable of repopulating degenerated brain areas. This increases the possibility for new treatments for brain injuries, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders which result from an extensive loss of neurons, accompanied by functional deterioration in the affected brain tissue. Such neurodegenerative diseases are a major health concern, given the rising aging population worldwide.
The approach uses gene engineering and nanoparticles for gene delivery to activate the INFS mechanism directly and promote neuronal development. The INFS-targeting gene can prompt these stem cells to differentiate into neurons to replenish dead cells.
"In this way, targeting the INFS potentially could be used to cure certain brain diseases, particularly in the case of a stroke or injuries that happen as a single episode and are not continuously attacking the brain," said Dr. Stachowiak. "This study provides proof of concept for a novel approach to the treatment of neuronal loss by means of therapeutic gene transfer. This is a particularly attractive alternative to viral-mediated gene transfer.
Stachowiak and his wife, Ewa K. Stachowiak, Ph.D., research assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences, along with their postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, have spent more than 15 years studying the mechanisms that control natural neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons.
Stachowiak and colleagues are currently working on approaches for further development of gene delivery methods for the treatment of neuronal loss. "Now that we know the mechanism, we can search effectively for the means to control it," said Ewa Stachowiak.
Results of the research appear in a recent issue of Integrative Biology.
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