HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Last year, Dr. Elmer Price, a professor of biological sciences at Marshall University, was awarded a three-year, $350,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation.
The grant funds his research into understanding neurogenesis, the process adult brains use to generate new neurons from preexisting adult neural stem cells. Price and his student researchers have now discovered a way to recruit these adult neural stem cells into regions of the brain which typically lack the ability to replenish neurons. Their findings have tremendous therapeutic potential for cases of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease, stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Price and researchers Amanda Clark, Arrin Carter and Lydia Hager have published their research in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Stem Cells and Development.
Their discovery is based on the fact that the adult brain has its own supply of adult neural stem cells. These stem cells are only found in two specific regions of the adult brain. Price’s lab has developed a way to actually steer these neural stem cells away from their usual location and into a new region of the brain that typically is unable to regenerate new neurons.
They accomplished this by making small cylinders out of a mixture of biologically-compatible materials, and then surgically implanting these cylinders into the brain. Price’s study revealed that, over time, the adult neural stem cells used the cylindrical implant as a new pathway and subsequently migrated along this path into a new region of the brain.
The Marshall researchers also found that these cylinder implants reversed the Parkinson’s-like behavior in rats who had an experimentally-induced version of the disease, suggesting the neural cells that responded to the implant were able to replace neurons lost in Parkinson’s disease.
“We are pretty excited about this work for a number of reasons,” said Price. “It describes a totally new approach for treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and we predict that this approach will also be useful in cases of stroke or traumatic brain injury; however, those studies have yet to be completed. This paper is the product of many years of work and hopefully is the first of a number of important findings regarding this unique approach. This is just the beginning of a long process; we are very, very far from moving this into humans but this paper is a critical first step.”
One key feature of Price’s approach is that the implants make use of the brain’s pre-existing stem cells; once reduced to practice, a patient’s own neural stem cells would be harnessed for targeted brain repair.