A recent discovery by scientists is a potential breakthrough for the treatment of neurological injuries and diseases. An antibody was discovered that can turn stem cells (taken from the bone marrow of patients) directly into neural cells. Yet, how will this affect future medical treatments?
What Are Antibodies?
Antibodies (a.k.a. immunoglobulins) are Y-shaped blood proteins that work with the immune system to identify and remove possible foreign threats to the body. When an antigen is detected, the immune system creates the appropriate antibodies to attach themselves to harmful invaders to signal the white blood cells to attack.
Antigens may include:
- Foreign particles
The current techniques for turning bone marrow cells into other cell types are considered to be risky. However, the new technique discovered by The Scripps Research Institute in California is believed to be both safer and more simple. The cell therapies using a patient’s own cells are expected to be effective for treating strokes, spinal cord injuries, and more, with reduced risk of the body rejecting the new cells.
The discovery was made by a team at The Scripps Research Institute in California working to encourage the growth of bone marrow stem cells by finding an antibody to trigger the GCSF receptor. When they found an antibody that achieved what they wanted, the team additionally discovered that neural progenitor cells were grown instead of stem cells.
Neural progenitor cells are similar to mature brain cells and can potentially be used to regenerate cells. In fact, the research team plans to collaborate with researchers looking into regenerating optical nerves in the future.
More about the research can be found in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Converting marrow lineage cells into neural lineage cells (known as “transdifferentiation”) by simply triggering a single receptor is a significant achievement. While scientists have methods of changing marrow stem cells into other mature cell types, the methods often require dangerous deprogramming. The deprogramming turns the marrow cells into an embryonic-like stem cell state that are then altered into an adult cell state.
With current cell-therapy methods, a patient’s cell is harvested, reprogrammed, multiplied in a lab dish, then reintroduced into the patient. However, it is believed that the use of an antibody could now be injected safely into a sick patient’s bloodstream. The injected antibody would then find its way to the marrow and turn some of the marrow stem cells into the desired neural progenitor cells. Through the neural progenitor cells, damaged areas of the brain could then be repaired.
It is believed that the new antibody will be able to bind the GCSF receptor for longer than the natural protein can achieve, and that the extended interaction will alter the receptor’s signaling pattern. While the researchers are still not entirely sure why the antibody has such an odd (although positive) effect, it is still good news for patients and cord blood bank companies.
Although there is more research to be done, the discovery of the new antibody is good news for everyone.
Alice Pettaway is a medical researcher with extensive experience as a nursed. Her articles mainly appear on health and medical research blogs.