LONDON, Jun 28 (Reuters Health) - Human trials of stem cells containing a "conditional immortalising" gene are expected to begin next year as part of a radical new way to treat strokes and other brain disorders, researchers announced on Tuesday.
Professor Jeffrey Gray and colleagues at the neural transplantation company ReNeuron Ltd. and the Institute of Psychiatry in London said that they have developed lines of stem cells from both the mouse and the human brain with a gene that allows the cells to multiply and be maintained indefinitely, until needed for transplantation. Furthermore, the gene "switches off" when the cells are transplanted.
"At this point, we have shown that these conditionally immortalised neural stem cells naturally migrate to the damaged regions of the brain," Professor Gray added, during a presentation to the Forum of European Neuroscience in Brighton. "Remarkably, they repair the damage that we can see at a microscopic level. Above all, they improve learning, memory and movement that are affected by brain disease."
Although further research was required to understand the factors that determine the properties that these cells possess, he said, "It is clear that they offer a novel and promising approach to treating brain diseases that millions of people in the UK alone suffer from."
ReNeuron, a London-based biotech company that has received financial backing from Merlin Ventures, has developed human cell lines from different regions of the foetal brain and their potential is under evaluation.
Finance Director Ian Miscampbell told Reuters Health, "What we are effectively doing is taking a set of cells from human foetuses at termination of pregnancy and immortalising them with our technology. For every one mother cell there are millions of daughter cells. What our technologies allow us to do is replicate these cells endlessly in a very safe and controlled way.
"We have found that stem cells have unique properties. If you put them into a damaged brain they migrate to the site of damage and decide what kind of cells they need to become to repair the damage.
"We have compelling data with our prototype cell lines in animal models of stroke and memory impairment and are now moving into the development stage. We plan to be in the clinic in the second half of 2001 in the treatment of stroke."
With more than 4,000 delegates, the meeting is believed to the largest
ever gathering of neuroscientists and those in related disciplines throughout
Europe. It is hosted by the British Neuroscience Association on behalf
of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and other affiliated