This is exciting, although preliminary, research results. These researchers used what is known about stem cells to look for existing cells in the spinal cord. The genes that “switch on and off” are now known for quite a few stem cell lines and they are matched against all the cell genomes that we have in the data bank, or “Atlas.”
If a patient’s own neural stem cells can be identified, harvested or used in place, and controlled to develop into cells that replace damaged cells, we may have new treatments for spinal cord injury, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophies, and even strokes.
This is a big “maybe,” but we’re on our way to “using the original container!”
In the search for neural stem cells, scientists have been using a few known genes as clues to find candidates deep in the middle of the spinal cord. While some neural stem cells have been discovered there, the newly identified class of spinal cord radial glia run along the edge of the spinal cord, an incredibly convenient location for activating them with minimal secondary damage to help the spinal cord repair during disease or after injury.
“When we first saw known neural stem cell genes appearing in these cells on the edge of the cord, I realized we not only had a brand new cell, but had the capacity to reveal a new gene set that may also guide us to hidden neural stem cells in atypical locations in the brain. I did not expect so many of them to link to human diseases,” Dr. Roskams said.
Identifying these cells and the genes relevant to activate them opens fresh new pathways to explore effective therapies to treat spinal cord injury and several types of neurodegenerative disease.