A grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is to help researchers at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, US, study how to replace neurons lost through traumatic brain disorders.
The five-year grant was recently awarded to Dr Daniel Peterson, director of the university’s Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, and Dr Robert Marr, Chicago Medical School associate professor of neuroscience, for the study ‘Reprogramming Cell Fate for Repair,’ a collaboration with co-principal investigators Dr Oliver Brüstle and Dr Martin Schwarz, at the University of Bonn in Germany.
Peterson said: “Our new reprogramming technology allows us to try to make neurons wherever they’re needed in the brain for repair and we’re having some success.
“What we’re still trying to figure out is how to make enough of them and how to make them connect with the existing circuit.”
Neurons in the brain and spinal cord are long-lived cells that are not replaced when damaged or lost. Recent advances in stem cell biology make it possible to introduce developmental genes into mature cells and direct them to becoming a different type of cell.
The study will use gene therapy approaches to directly reprogram rodent and human progenitor cells, which descend from stem cells to become neurons, and then evaluate the extent to which these newly engineered neurons connect with the rest of the brain.
The findings could lead to new therapies for neurological injury and disease such as stroke, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Peterson’s team, which has also included researchers at DePaul University in Chicago, is investigating neuronal loss in an animal model of mild TBI with the goal of applying the reprogramming approach to replace lost neurons and restore function.