Can the adult human brain fix itself?

Published 13 November 2007

A new study proves for the first time that a region of the brain contains stem cells, which have the ability to act as a repair system for the body.

As diseases such as Alzheimer's speed up the process by which brain cells die, researchers say that drugs could be developed which would stimulate stem cells to replace them.

The study published in Science magazine was carried out by teams in Sweden and New Zealand.

Commenting on the discovery, Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society says:

'Questions about stem cells and what happens to them in the adult human brain have long fuelled lively debates among scientists.

Stem cells, which occur naturally in the adult human brain, have the ability to renew themselves and develop into a wide range of specialised cell types, including nerve cells. This poses the potential to treat damaged tissues and repair brain damage from neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease.

For the first time, this study demonstrates that stem cells are routinely involved in replenishing nerve cells in at least one part of the adult human brain. This process raises exciting new questions for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, such as whether stem cells could be stimulated into action when the brain has been injured.

These findings are the first step to unlocking potentially exciting new treatments.'

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