A newly-discovered class of cells could one day help repair spinal cord injuriesS

Injuries to parts of the nervous system — the spinal cord, for example — are among the most devastating that human beings can sustain. But the recent discovery of a new class of spinal cord cell could soon lead to novel therapies capable of regenerating parts of the central nervous system.

The newly-discovered cells were identified by looking for cells in the adult spinal cord, called "radial glia," that expressed genes similar to those found in neural stem cells — small populations of stem cells localized in regions of the adult human brain like the hippocampus.

In doing so, the researchers discovered a previously uncharacterized population of spinal cells that researchers say could one day be coaxed into helping protect and repair the nervous system in the event of injury and disease.

"We were able to discover a brand new cell type that has previously been overlooked and that could be an important player in all manner of spinal cord injury and disease, including multiple sclerosis and ALS," said neuroscientist Jane Roskams, who led the study.

While stem cells similar to the ones discovered are highly active during embryological stages of development, Roskams explains that they aren't re-activated very effectively during adulthood, a fact that leaves the CNS vulnerable and unable to repair itself in the event of injury and disease.

"The key," she explains, "is to find a way of stimulating them so they reprise their role of generating new neural cells when needed."

Via PLoS ONE

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