Scientists say that small brain biopsies could be used to grow large numbers of cells, which could then be transplanted back into the patient's own brain. This is according to a study published in The FASEB Journal.
Researchers from Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute in Canada, say the procedure could prove beneficial in treating patients with various neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, and injuries of the nervous system.
The study, funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, involved 19 patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, a common neurological disorder.
All patients were scheduled to receive deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. This is a common procedure that involves putting electrodes into the brain. Although this procedure reduces certain symptoms of Parkinson's disease, it does not halt progression.
Prior to the electrodes being implanted, the researchers took small biopsies from the surface of the patients' brains. These were immediately taken to the laboratory, and the DBS surgery was carried out as normal.
The patients' brain cells were then multiplied in culture, generating millions of patient-specific cells. The cells then underwent genetic analysis, and researchers froze excess cells for use later on.
Regenerated brain cells 'could target neurological disorders'
Dr. Matthew Hebb, assistant professor in the Departments of Clinical Neurological Sciences, Oncology and Otolaryngology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University, explains that when these brain cells are grown in culture, they are complex in their make-up.
However, they are able to regenerate and demonstrate characteristics of a class of brain cells called glia. These are cells important for functions of the nervous system. Furthermore, Dr. Hebb says that the brain cells demonstrate neurotrophic activity, which is the ability to preserve and protect themselves from injury, toxins and diseases.
He says it is possible the brain cells could be transformed to target specific neurological disorders:
"With further advances, it's possible that these cells could be transformed in the laboratory to yield specific cell types needed for a particular disease. For example, dopamine neurons in Parkinson's disease or oligodendrocytes in Multiple Sclerosis."
He adds that the creation "of such personalized approaches to neurological disease would not be encumbered by many of the barriers that limit existing cell transplantation methods, such as immune rejection, tissue availability and ethical impasses."
Potential for direct drug delivery to the brain
The researchers note that it could be possible to engineer the cells to express certain therapeutic agents, such as dopamine, that could be released directly into the brain after the cells have been re-implanted.
They add that this strategy for drug delivery could play an important part in the exposure of selected brain regions to sufficient and ongoing drug levels, while at the same time limiting exposure and possible side effects to the rest of the body.
Dr. Hebb adds:
"It is our hope that the results of this study provide a footing for further advancement of personalized cell-based treatments for currently incurable and devastating neurological disorders."
Medical News Today recently reported on how scientists successfully grew mini-brains from stem cells.