We have been hearing for many years that umbilical cells may hold the potential of allowing researchers to grow and rejuvenate specific cells or tissues, which may ultimately be used to treat heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's and many other diseases. However, for the first time, scientists have transformed stem cells from umbilical cords into other types of cells, which may have several therapeutic applications for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, among other nervous system diseases.The breakthrough could come as a favorable alternative to embryonic stem cells. This technique overcomes many of the obstacles present with embryonic stem cells such as ethical dilemmas and the fact that these types of cells have been found not to cause immune reactions, which would simplify their potential use in medical treatments.
The main challenge in working with stem cells is figuring out the chemical or other triggers that will convince them to convert into a desired cell type. Researchers set out to transform umbilical stem cells into oligodendrocytes – critical structural cells that insulate nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Other research groups had found components on oligodendrocytes that bind with the hormone norephinephrine, suggesting the cells normally interact with this chemical and that it might be one of the factors that stimulates their production. In early tests, she found that norepinephrine, along with other stem cell growth promoters, caused the umbilical stem cells to convert, or differentiate, into oligodendrocytes. However, that conversion only went so far. The cells grew but then stopped short of reaching a level similar to what’s found in the human nervous system. To more closely approximate the physical restrictions cells face in the body, they set up a more confined, three-dimensional environment, growing cells on top of a microscope slide, but with a glass slide above them. Only after making this change, and while still providing the norephinphrine and other chemicals would the cells fully mature into oligodendrocytes.
This research could provide a lot of hope to multiple sclerosis sufferers. The study has been recently published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience. (ANI)