The Dawning of Neurogenesis
Neural implantation offers a dramatic new tool for researchers and clinicians to restore normal brain function to individuals suffering from a variety of neurological diseases and disorders, as we detail in our article on page 1 of this issue. The field of controlled neurogenesis— directing the growth of new neurons in the brain from within—offers a potential route to new therapies for treating Parkinson’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, ALS, and a host of other conditions.
If this field develops as is hoped, it will also create a new opportunity for neural engineers and a new industry segment that devises tools and techniques for implanting new cells, guiding their migration to the desired location, and managing their integration with existing neural circuits. The work of many of the pioneers of deep-brain stimulation in neural circuits involved with movement or mood disorders, for example, may prove crucial down the road as neurosurgeons seek the optimal “target” for implantation of new cells.
There has also been groundbreaking work down in electrically-mediated neural guidance and neural regeneration by investigators such as John McDonald of Johns Hopkins University and Richard Borgens of Purdue University. The technology behind the Andara Oscillating Field Stimulator, previously marketed by Cyberkinetics and now owned by NeuroMetrix, may have new use in a future neurogenesis industry.
Also key to the development of the neurogenesis industry is the availability of the cells used for implantation. Embryonic stem cells, and the closely related induced pluripotent stem cells can give rise to all of the 220 types of tissues in the human body, and have been directed in the lab to become many types of cells, including brain cells. The appeal of human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent cells is the potential to manufacture limitless supplies of healthy, specialized cells to replace diseased or damaged cells. Multiple studies over the past decade have shown that both embryonic stem cells and induced cells can alleviate deficits of these disorders in animal models.
As noted by one of the investigators mentioned in our article, Matthew Anderson of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, “The finding that these embryonic cells are so efficient at integrating with native neuronal circuitry makes us quite excited about the possibility of applying similar techniques to other neurological and psychiatric diseases.”
As the U.S. enters the next presidential election season, we must not take it for granted that the more liberal attitude taken by the current administration toward embryonic stem cells will be here to stay. The very same conservative elements who gave rise to the restrictions placed on researchers by the previous administration are hard at work trying to regain power.
Editor and Publisher