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From stem cell to brain cell in a petri dish

Bit of a breakthrough

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Researchers in Florida have grown brain cells to maturity in the lab for the first time ever. The researchers identified and harvested stem cells from the brains of adult mice and encouraged them to grow by mimicking the way the brain naturally regenerates.

The work opens the possibility of new treatments for degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, and could lead to the development of new drugs to encourage damaged nerves to re-grow, the researchers say.

Key to the research is the identification of the stem cell. Professor Dennis Steindler, who led the research, explains that he and his team used a special microscope that allowed them to watch living cells over a period of time. This, he added, means that they have seen the stem cells give rise to new neurons.

"We've isolated for the first time what appears to be the true candidate stem cell," he said. "We've watched it under a living microscope generate brand new neurons."

The breakthrough means that scientists can now generate virtually limitless quantities of mouse brain cells, and are confident that the technique will soon work for humans as well. And because the cells would originally have come from the patient being treated, there would be no need for immuno suppressant drugs.

Bjorn Scheffler, a neuroscientist at Florida University says that although researchers have grown brain cells in the lab before, this is the first time the whole process has been reproduced, step by step. "Our study shows for the first time the entire process that goes on in our brain for life. We can, in a dish, recapture the process in front of our eyes," The Independent quotes him as saying.

The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

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