June 27, 2014

Research Team Discovers New Type of Spinal Cord Stem Cell

A research team led by a University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health scientist has discovered a type of spinal cord cell that could function as a stem cell, with the ability to regenerate portions of the central nervous system in people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). [Petit A, Sanders AD, Kennedy TE, Tetzlaff W, Glattfelder KJ, et al. (2011) Adult Spinal Cord Radial Glia Display a Unique Progenitor Phenotype. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24538. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024538]

Dr. Jane Roskams of the University of British Columbia along with researchers from the Allen Institute, McGill University and Yale University used genetic profiles of nervous system stem cells that were developed and made publicly accessible by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle and found cells with similar genes to stem cells called radial glial cells along the outside edge of spinal cords of mice, making it possible to activate the cells with drugs while minimizing secondary damage.

Dr. Roskams' team also found that radial glial cells in the spinal cord share a unique set of genes with other neural stem cells. Several of these, when mutated, can lead to human diseases, including some that target the nervous system such as multiple sclerosis. This finding creates new possibilities for potential gene therapy treatments that would replace mutated, dysfunctional spinal cord cells with healthier ones produced by the radial glial cells. For unknown reasons, these cells are not always re-activated effectively in adulthood. Research building from this discovery will aim to find a way of stimulating the cells so they carry out their role of generating new neural cells when necessary.