One step closer to treating neurodegenerative diseases

Published in The Hindu on August 20, 2009

Treating neurodegenerative diseases has got a shot in the arm. A scientist from the Tel Aviv University (TAU) has been able to observe the stem cells injected in an animal model with Huntington’s disease repairing the damaged tissues.

A pre-clinical study using NTFs was undertaken last year on rat models at TAU. The study demonstrated the ability of a special kind of stem cells to repair Parkinson’s disease.


Dr. Yoram Cohen of the School of Chemistry at TAU was able observe something special. He could see how the stem cells injected in to the brain were able to identify the unhealthy/damaged areas of the brain, move to the specific sites and repair or halt the progression of the disease in the animal models.

Stem cells injected into the body have the ability to go to the damaged tissues and repair them. For instance, stem cells injected into the heart have been found to go to the place where the heart muscle is damaged after a heart attack. This capability, known as ‘homing,’ is well known but there was no evidence till now of how the stem cells moved to the damaged areas.

Observing the homing phenomenon became possible by using an in-vivo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to track the stem cells. The stem cells were first tagged with magnetic iron oxide. This allowed tracking the stem cells, which showed up as black dots on the MRI.

Dr. Cohen found the stem cells reading the chemical signals produced by the damaged tissue, which indicate areas of stress. An animal that had an experimental model of Huntington’s disease was used for the study. The results are published in the journal Stem Cells.

Dr. Cohen used stem cells taken from the human bone marrow to differentiate them to mesenchymal stem cells and transformed them in to neurotrophic factor (NTF)-secreting stem cells. NTFs are essential for the survival and outgrowth of neurons. They have been shown to treat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s.

The University hopes to develop a therapy for those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.