The promise of actually putting stem cells to work continues to draw closer. ScienceDaily and Cell Stem Cell very cool graphics explaining the conclusion) bring the news that Karolinska Institute scientists headed up a global group of researchers who have now used genetic fate mapping to follow some parts of the actual path of stem cell activity after traumatic injuries to the spine. The Cell Stem Cell link above connects with a very cool graphic explanation of the process. In words, Karolinska’s press release explains the conclusion as follows:
"The research group has identified a type of stem cell, called an ependymal cell, in the spinal cord. They show that these cells are inactive in the healthy spinal cord, and that the cell formation that takes place does so mainly through the division of more mature cells. When the spinal cord is injured, however, these stem cells are activated to become the dominant source of new cells.
The stem cells then give rise to cells that form scar tissue and to a type of support cell that is an important component of spinal cord functionality. The scientists also show that a certain family of mature cells known as astrocytes produce large numbers of scar-forming cells after injury.
"The stem cells have a certain positive effect following injury, but not enough for spinal cord functionality to be restored," says Jonas Frisén. "One interesting question now is whether pharmaceutical compounds can be identified to stimulate the cells to form more support cells in order to improve functional recovery after a spinal trauma."
The Karolinska Institute is a major Swedish medical center; its nonresearch activities include selecting the annual Nobel Prize winner for medicine. The Karolinska press release is here. The abstract is here.