Stem Cells and the Battle Against Neurological Diseases

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Stem cells hold the ability to develop into various other cells. They replace cells present within the body, as each stem cell holds the ability to specialise or to remain unchanged during cell division. They are in of themselves, unspecialised, and when utilised within controlled environments, they can be used to synthesise tissues or even organs. Within the early stages of development within a blastocyst (early embryo), the internal cells produce forth the entire human anatomy, which include all the specialised cells and of course the organs. Stem cells present in the bone marrow and brain tissue hold regenerative potential, and act to heal damaged areas.1

There are two main groups:

Embryonic stem cells – they are derived from embryos and are pluripotent as they can differentiate into any cell type. They can be grown very easily in culture.

Adult stem cells – undifferentiated cells present within tissues and organs. They can themselves differentiate to form specific specialised cells, based on the tissue in which they are located.

Stem cells are indeed invaluable as they are responsible for repair of any tears, injuries or damage inflicted upon tissues, through the replacement of cells. This is evident in the lining of the intestine, skin and of course blood.2

The OSCi website states, ‘Harnessing the power of adult stem cells to repair damaged tissue or generate replacement organs is slowly moving from vision to reality; the use of stem cells to repair damage to eyes, or replace skin that has been subject to severe burns is already a reality. The use of stem cells to restore bone marrow in cancer patients is also in widespread use’. This is a clear indication of the potential that may be achieved through the utilisation of stem cells, in humanity’s war against certain debilitating conditions. However, the benefits of stem cells may only be fully reaped once we understand what initiates them, and provide a system for accurate identification. We may then, and only then, proceed towards manipulating our own stem cells with the aid of drugs to meet our own aims.

Neurological diseases hold a major negative influence over mankind. Common neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, strokes and multiple sclerosis, only come into play by a decline of neurones and glial cells. Scientists have succeeded in generating these vital structures from stem cells in culture, igniting plans to develop stem-cell-based transplantation therapies. Research has been done to encourage the formation of these cells and to prevent their deaths, within the central nervous system (CNS). The current focus is to transform these innovations into clinically approved practices.3

Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease which includes an increasing cell degeneration process, which starts off with the loss of brain cells that are in charge of thought, memory and language. It holds no cure and was first discovered by German physician Dr. Alzheimer, who found amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles within the brain of the disease’s victim. According to the IJHS, ‘A compound similar to the components of DNA may improve the chances that stem cells transplanted from a patient’s bone marrow to the brain will take over the functions of damaged cells and help treat Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological illnesses’. A research team led by University of Central Florida professor Kiminobu Sugaya discovered that combining bromodeoxyuridine with bone marrow cells in laboratory cultures, alongside a compound that is a part of the DNA, increased the chances of stem cells developing into brain cells within rats. Certain grafting techniques have also been developed, centred around the application of undifferentiated stem cells to treat neurological diseases.

A concerned patient, worried about Alzheimer’s, may be sent for a scan and a consultant will analyse it to look for signs of Alzheimer’s disease which would be evident due to the presence of dark spaces in parts of the brain where cells have died. However, these indicators can only be seen when a person has been showing symptoms for a while, so normal brain scans are not very useful for early detection.

This is where AI technology may provide assistance. University of California’s researchers have collated thousands of brain scans to program AI to detect changes. The AI learned patterns it detected in scans to aid in the early prognosis of Alzheimer’s. The AI accurately identified cases in all forty tests that were conducted, and was even able to correctly diagnose the disease from 6 year old scans, from before a patient first showed symptoms. Armed with such information, doctors are able to quickly commence with stem cell therapy, and reduce the damaging effects of the disease.


References

  1. National Institutes of Health (2016), Stem cell information. [online] Last accessed 1 January 2020: https://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/1.htm
  2. Oxford Stem Cell Institute (2020), Adult Stem Cells. [online] Last accessed 1 January 2020: https://www.stemcells.ox.ac.uk/adult-stem-cells
  3. Lindvall, O., Kokaia, Z. (2006) Stem cells for the treatment of neurological disorders. Nature, vol. 441,pp 1094–1096
  4. International Journal of Health Sciences (2009), Role of Stem Cells in Treatment of Neurological Disorder. [online] Last accessed 1 January 2020: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068820/
  5. Alzheimer’s Society (2019), AI detects Alzheimer’s early signs. [online] Last accessed 30 April 2020: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/Care-and-cure-magazine/spring-19/ai-detects-alzheimers-early-signs

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