Thursday, November 20, 2008

Neurons Derived From Embryonic Stem Cells Restore Muscle Function After Injury

Contributed by:

Margaret Rose Tollerton (MRT)
Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures
Columbia Regional Organizer

Researchers at Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have discovered that embryonic stem cells may play a critical role in helping people with nerve damage and motor neuron diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), regain muscular strength.

Motor neurons reside in the spinal cord and control limb movements by enabling muscles to contract. Diseases like ALS cause them to degenerate, resulting in muscle weakness, atrophy, and eventual paralysis.

“This study builds on a series of studies in which we demonstrated that motor neurons can be generated from mouse embryonic stem cells,” says Dr. Victor Rafuse, associate professor of anatomy & neurobiology. “It’s very exciting that these neurons can be used for transplantation to prevent degeneration of muscle.”

The research team used embryonic stem cells from mice to grow motor neurons in the laboratory. They then transplanted the neurons into mouse nerves that were separated from the spinal cord. After separation, it would be expected that the nerves and muscles they control die. However, the Dalhousie group was the first in the world to find that the muscles not only were preserved by the transplantation, but they could produce about half their normal force to contract.

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