Scientists at the Institute of Stem Cell Research at Helmhotz Zentrum Munchen in Germany have recently been able to restore function by transplanting embryonic nerve cells into traumatically injured brains. The grafted neurons, over the course of many weeks, integrated into brain circuits that normally never incorporate new neurons in the adult brain and became functional nerve cells.

Embryonic neurons transplanted into the damaged brain of mice formed connections with nearby nerve cells, restoring function. After four weeks, the transplanted cells became the type of cells normally seen in that area of the brain and were functional and responding to visual signals from the eyes.

Embryonic Nerve Cells Eliminate Need for Stem Cells

The institute has found that stem cell transplants from donors have been limited in their ability to regenerate damaged nerve cells. Building on research by Japanese scientist Professor Shinya Yamanaka in 2006, they have discovered that embryonic nerve cells have the ability to convert into stem cells, thus eliminating the need for stem cell donors.

The discovery provides new hope to victims of traumatic brain injury and stroke. With this research, we know that embryonic nerve cell transplants can reprogram cells in the brain. “I’m excited about this study,” said Sunil Gandhi of University of California, Irvine. This is evidence that the brain can accept the addition of new neurons, which normally doesn’t happen. That’s very exciting for its potential for cell-based repair for brain.”

There is some caution with the new approach, however. While the behavioral rehabilitation of stroke victims can be limited and frustrating, what if transplanted cells become cancerous, causing more harm than good?

Long Term Goal to Stimulate Brain to Produce Its Own Cells

The Institute of Stem Cell Research plans to “further develop the approach to activate endogenous cells in the brain towards the long-term goal of regenerating neurons from local sources of supporting cells, thus avoiding the need of transplantation,” said Professor Magdalena Botz, director of the Institute of Stem Cell Research at Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen.