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Stem cell 'scaffold' aids formation of brain tissue

16 March 2009
Appeared in BioNews 499

Scientists have developed a scaffolding system for keeping stem cells in place in damaged brain areas. Work published last week in the journal Biomaterials demonstrated that damaged tissue in rat brains could be replaced within a week by this method. Principal investigator of the study, Dr Mike Modo, of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK explained, saying 'we would expect to see a much better improvement in the outcome after a stroke if we can fully replace the lost brain tissue, and that is what we have been able to do with our technique.'

The technique developed by the team involves injecting minute biodegradable balls containing neural stem cells into the damaged region of the brain. The researchers showed that this ready-made support structure helped the stem cells to form new tissue in stroke-damaged rat brains. Previous work which has attempted to inject stem cells has found that the cells tend to migrate into surrounding healthy tissue, but this new scaffold technique helps to build a web of cells in the damaged region. In time, the particles biodegrade leaving space into which tissue, fibres and blood vessels can develop.

It is hoped that these findings will form the basis for new lines of research into therapeutic interventions for stroke patients. At present the team intend to focus on trying to inject material which would help to build blood vessels to support the neural cells, and also on investigating any long-term effects of the biodegrading material. Joe Korner, director of communications at The Stroke Association, stressed that the treatment is still in its infancy: 'The development of stem cell therapy for stroke survivors is still in the early stages and much more research will be needed before it can be tested in humans or used in practice,' he told the BBC.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the UK, after heart disease and cancer. It affects about 150,000 people a year, causing around 67,000 deaths.

Stem cell 'scaffold' for stroke
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NHS Choices |  9 March 2009
Stem cells replace stroke-damaged tissues in rats
ScienceDaily |  9 March 2009
Tiny 'ping pong balls' could repair stroke damaged brains
The Daily Mail |  9 March 2009
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