Until recently, it was believed that neurons don’t reproduce or replace themselves, meaning that nerve cell loss was irreversible. While these diseases and conditions are currently incurable, we now know that neurons do have the capacity to generate new cells. Recent advances in iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cell) technology hold promise for therapies that will halt or reverse nerve cell damage and loss. Those potential therapies are being actively pursued in research and clinical trials.
The burden of neurological disease is tremendous. In the U.S. alone, 5 million people suffer from Parkinson’s disease and another 24 million people have one of approximately 5,000 other neurological or neurodegenerative disorders. Over 80% of rare or inherited diseases are considered neurological or neurodegenerative. Another 780,000 people each year will have a stroke that damages neurons in some part of the brain.
Neural stem cells in the
brain give rise to three major cell types:
- Neurons (nerve cells)
- Astrocytes (star-shaped cells that support and nourish neurons in the brain and spinal cord)
- Oligodendrocytes (cells that form myelin, the fatty protective sheath around axons, the long arm of a nerve cell that conducts messages from the brain to the rest of the body)
Neural stem cells have
the potential to provide therapies for:
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Brain injury
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injury Stroke Myelin regeneration (for de-myelinating diseases like multiple sclerosis and leukodystrophies)