Researchers at the University of California, Davis have coaxed cells from the brain to mature into the minute hair cells in the ear that are required for hearing. For many people with hearing loss, these tiny hair cells have died, leaving people unable to sense vibrations caused by sound. Regrowing functional hair cells that will sway in response to sound and send appropriate signals to the brain has been a major goal for stem cell researchers. In this work, the team found a population of cells in the lateral ventricle of the brain that they were able to transform into the delicate hair cells. The team is now testing whether those cells are able to transmit sound signals in animal models.
Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences have grown embryonic stem cells into the motor neurons and support cells that underlie amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease, ALS has no cure and no effective treatment. In this disease, the motor neurons slowly degenerate leaving a person paralyzed. Why the neurons die is not known, however the support cells called astrocytes have long appeared to play a role. Now researchers have coaxed embryonic stem cells to form the motor neurons and astrocytes in a lab dish to better understand their relationship in ALS. What they learned is that astrocytes containing a mutation associated with ALS killed off the neighboring motor neurons. This mutation is in a gene that makes a protein whose normal role is to protect the body from damaging oxygen free radicals. When the group grew these same cells in the presence of a powerful anti-oxidant, the motor neurons survived. In addition to understanding the biology of ALS, the group thinks they could use this system to screen drugs that may be able to treat ALS.
Researchers at UC, Los Angeles have found that blood-forming stem cells in mice have their origins in the endothelial cells that line blood vessels during mid-gestation. These cells eventually move to the bone marrow where they generate all the cells of the blood system throughout life. Researchers have long known that blood-forming stem cells arise from the blood vessels, but didn’t know exactly which cell type acted as the source. Now that the source is know, the researchers want to learn what signals those endothelial cells to begin producing blood-forming stem cells. This information could eventually help researchers learn how to create those stem cells in the lab and maintain the cells in the stem cell state rather than forming mature cell types. Currently, it isn’t possible to grow blood stem cells in large quantity in the lab. Having a source of these cells would be useful for bone marrow transplants to treat cancer or for research purposes.