OMAHA - The University of Nebraska Medical Center announced at a press conference Wednesday fruits of a nine-month quest to find alternative tissue sources for brain disease research.
"The message is that we are able to successfully isolate two of the three types of neuronal cells and we're working on the third one," said Anuja Ghorpade, a med center scientist. Three types of brain cells -- neurons, astrocytes and microglia -- contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and AIDS-related dementia.
Through rapid brain autopsies, a procedure where a patient's brain is recovered within two hours of death, medical center researchers are able to offer a partial alternative to using fetal brain tissue in research. Such procedures, however, don't appear likely to yield neurons, a key type of cell for study.
Last November, the use of aborted fetal tissue erupted in controversy with reports that the medical canter was using fetal brain cells for research. Some on the other side of the controversy weren't too impressed with the center's announcement Wednesday.
"The quest for mature neurons is still eluding them . . .," said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life. "Pro-life Nebraskans don't want just a reduction in the amount of aborted baby body parts being used. They want an end to the whole macabre situation."
Scientists must still rely on fetal tissue for one of the three cell types needed for research. Meanwhile, three other institutions in the world also have been able to isolate two of the three cell types using rapid brain autopsies, said medical center spokesman Tom O'Connor. No one yet has been able to recover the third.
Neurons are the most important type of cells in neurodegenerative disease research because neuronal malfunction ultimately leads to memory loss and the ability to take care of oneself. The other two types, astrocytes and microglia, are significant because they also participate in abnormal brain function.
Dr. Howard Gendelman, director of the medical center's Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Diseases, said he is encouraged by rapid brain autopsies . "Not only have we been able to do it, but we've been able to do it successfully," he said.
In addition to the $250,000 marked for alternative tissue sources, Gendelman's research team also has submitted grant applications totaling $2 million to the National Institutes of Health for further research.
Said Gendelman: "The goal of the program is to use alternative sources for fetal tissue as we are able. . ." Reach Theresa Cha at 473-7228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.