New Class of Stem Cell-Like Cells Discovered in Spinal Cord Offers Possibilities for Spinal Cord Repair

New Class of Stem Cell-Like Cells Discovered in Spinal Cord Offers Possibilities for Spinal Cord Repair

Press Release | September 15, 2011

SEATTLE, Sept. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — The Allen Institute for Brain Science announced today the discovery of a new class of cells in the spinal cord that act like neural stem cells, offering a fresh avenue in the search for therapies to treat spinal cord injury and disease. The published collaborative study, authored by scientists from the University of British Columbia, the Allen Institute for Brain Science and The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University and titled “Adult Spinal Cord Radial Glia Display a Unique Progenitor Phenotype,” appears in the open access journal PLoS One.

The research team utilized the Allen Spinal Cord Atlas, a finely detailed genome-wide map of gene expression throughout the mouse spinal cord, to compare the genes expressed, or turned on, in adult spinal cord radial glia with those found in other neural stem cells, revealing a signature set of 122 genes that indicate the likeness of these cells to classic neural stem cells.

The nervous system has historically been thought to be incapable of repairing itself, as the cells used to create it are exhausted during development. With the identification of these new stem cell-like radial glial cells, it may be possible to activate a certain set of genes in order to encourage those cells to reconstruct a damaged network in the adult spinal cord.

“By using the Allen Spinal Cord Atlas, we were able to discover a brand new cell type that has previously been overlooked and that could be an important player in all manner of spinal cord injury and disease, including multiple sclerosis and ALS,” said Jane Roskams, Ph.D., neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia and senior author of the study.

From disabled veterans to those afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) or Spinal Muscular Atrophy, spinal cord related diseases and disorders affect people of all ages including nearly one-quarter of a million Americans who have suffered from a spinal cord injury; as many as 30,000 Americans who suffer from ALS at any given time; and approximately 2.5 million people worldwide who suffer from multiple sclerosis.

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