Aging is an integral part of life, but as our bodies age, so do our brains. Just as an aging body can be riddled with illnesses and diseases like arthritis, cataracts, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, so too can an aging brain. Age-related diseases that affect the brain are often grouped under the umbrella term “neurodegeneration”. Diseases like Huntington, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are among the most well-known disorders that come under this terminology.
Let’s first see what the term “neurodegeneration” actually encompasses. The Oxford Dictionary defines neurodegeneration as “degeneration of the nervous system, especially neurons in the brain”. According to the EU Joint Program – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), the nervous system of the human body consists of neurons. In the event that they sustain damage, they do not possess the ability to repair, replace, or reproduce. This inability leads to neurodegenerative diseases.
Previously, neurodegenerative diseases were considered incurable. However, with the tremendous advancements that medical science has made in recent years, scientists have been able to design procedures that help help people with neurodegenerative diseases. Stem cell therapy is one of those advanced procedures that have recently shown positive results.
These cells are mother or master cells that have the ability to differentiate into other types of specialized cells through the process of mitosis. They can repair internal tissue damage by developing into a cell with a specialized function like a blood cell or a brain cell. They also have the capacity to renew themselves.
The use of this type of cells to treat medical conditions and diseases is known as stem cell therapy. Stem cell transplantation is the most common procedure used in this cell therapy. In the event of brain degeneration, stem cells are transplanted into the patient. These cells then become progenitor cells that work in the brain to maintain neuronal functions. Research has been conducted in animal models for diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, which have shown optimistic results.
At a symposium hosted by EuroStemCell, Magdalena Götz, PhD, Helmholtz Zentrum München, spoke about radial glial cells which are present in neural stem cells and described them as “they look like glia, they smell like glia but they are actually the neural stem cells. ”She further explained the development of brain cells and the ability to guide neural stem cells to locate and repair the injury site inside the brain, while regenerating neurons.
Stem cell research is the future of neurology. With several clinical studies being carried out year after year, the use of cells in this therapy to treat neurological disorders is constantly expanding. In India, the guidelines established by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) for the conduct of clinical studies have been revolutionized, which has led to extensive research in the field of stem cell therapy.