Human Brain’s Most Abundant Cell Generated From A Single Stem Cell In The Laboratory!
A team of researchers headed by Su-Chun Zhang from The University of Wisconsin, Madison have succeeded in generating astrocytes (star shaped cells in the brain and spinal cord) from both induced and embryonic human stem cells.
Astrocytes also known for their basic housekeeping skills such as regulation of the blood-brain barrier that filters out unwanted materials from entering the brain, absorption of extra chemicals produced by neurons and controlling the blood flow. Some other studies also suggest their role in human intelligence considering their large volumes in the brain.
According to Zhang, generation of astrocytes on a large scale in the laboratory not only helps in understanding their functions on a more detailed note but also their involvement if any in the brain disorders.
Neurons cannot function properly without astrocytes. Neurons or nerve cells are surrounded and protected by the astrocytes. Apart from keeping the nerve cells healthy they also participate in almost every function of the brain.
Producing astrocytes on a large scale and in uniform batches has many potential practical outcomes. They can be used for disease development in the laboratory to study the effects in detail or they can be used for testing new drugs for brain diseases or they may be transplanted into the brains in order to replace the damaged adult brain cells in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease etc.
In the near future the possibility of astrocytes being transplanted in a condition such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cannot be ruled out as in this neurological condition motor neurons are affected which are usually wrapped up in astrocytes in normal conditions.
In a neurological condition or in the case of a brain injury, nerve cells produce excessive neurotransmitters which can be harmful to brain. By injecting healthy astrocytes, motor neurons can be protected.