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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

Stem cell hope for motor neuron disease

03 February 2005

By BioNews

Appeared in BioNews 294

US researchers have managed to grow motor neurons, using human embryonic stem cells (ES cells), in the laboratory for the first time. The scientists, based at the University of Wisconsin, say their achievement could help research into motor neurone disease. It may eventually be possible to treat the condition using transplants of motor neuron cells, say the team, who reported their results online in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Motor neurone disease (MND) affects movement by attacking the motor neurons - the nerves connecting the spinal cord to the muscles. As the nerves gradually waste away, people with the condition eventually lose all control over their voluntary movements. The causes of motor neurone disease remain largely unknown, although ten per cent of cases are linked to an altered gene inherited from an affected parent. Researchers are looking at ways to replace the lost nerve cells, and are also investigating what triggers their loss in MND.

ES cells, derived from early human embryos, have the ability to develop into almost any type of body tissue. But although scientists have managed to get human ES cells in the laboratory to grow into other kinds of nerve cells, they had not previously managed to grow motor neurons.

Su-Chun Zhang and Xue-Jun Li spent two years coaxing ES cells with different combinations of hormones and growth factors, until they came up with the perfect recipe for motor neurons. They found that the conditions under which ES cells can be directed in this way are extremely precise. 'You need to teach the cells to change step by step, where each step has different conditions and a strict window of time', said Zhang.

The researchers used one of ES cell lines approved by President Bush for use by federally funded scientists, created before 9 August 2001. Earlier this month, a new study found that all of the ES cell lines currently approved for use by US state researchers would be 'risky for use in medical therapies', as they are contaminated with mouse cell components. However, the Wisconsin team's work will be invaluable fto scientists looking at how diseases such as MND develop.

In September 2004, Professor Ian Wilmut, the scientist who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep, applied for a licence to clone human embryos in order to carry out research on MND. He intends to look at cells from MND patients, and study their development in the laboratory, to see how the disease progresses. Such cells could also be used to test out new treatments for the condition.


Human Stem Cells Become Nerve Cells in Study
Reuters | 30 January 2005
Neurone cell success gives hope of cure for disease
The Times | 31 January 2005
Scientists Turn Stem Cells Into Neurons
ABC News | 31 January 2005


16 October 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
US researchers have used human stem cells to lessen the symptoms of motor neurone disease in rats bred to have symptoms of the condition. The scientists, based at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, showed that injecting fetal nerve stem cells into the spines of rats with amytrophic... [Read More]
05 June 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK scientist who lead the team responsible for creating Dolly the sheep has suggested using cloning technology to eradicate disease genes in early human embryos. In a new book, currently being serialised in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Professor Ian Wilmut says that it would be... [Read More]
13 January 2006 - by BioNews 
UK researchers are seeking permission to use rabbit eggs to create human stem cells for studying motor neurone disease. Professor Chris Shaw, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Professor Ian Wilmut, who led the Edinburgh University team that created Dolly the sheep, are discussing their planned experiments with... [Read More]
20 August 2005 - by BioNews 
A team of Italian and Scottish researchers has managed to grow pure batches of human nerve stem cells in the laboratory, using embryonic stem (ES) cells. Previous nerve stem cell lines grown in this way are actually a mixture of ES cells and nerve stem cells, which limits their usefulness... [Read More]
09 February 2005 - by BioNews 
The scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep has been given permission to use the same technique to clone human embryos for medical research into stem cells. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted a licence to the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh to use the cell nucleus replacement (CNR... [Read More]

24 January 2005 - by BioNews 
A new study has brought more bad news for federally-funded US stem cell researchers. Dr Arjit Varki and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, say that all the human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines currently approved for use by state researchers... [Read More]
28 September 2004 - by BioNews 
Professor Ian Wilmut, the scientist who lead the team that cloned Dolly the sheep, has applied for a licence to clone human embryos. He and his team, based at the Roslin Institute outside of Edinburgh, hope to use the cloned embryos in the study of, and to work towards a... [Read More]
23 February 2004 - by BioNews 
Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, who cloned Dolly the sheep, have confirmed their intention to apply for a license to derive cloned human embryo stem cells. Writing in New Scientist magazine last week, team leader Ian Wilmut says that he wants to clone cells from a patient with... [Read More]

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