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Stem cells show promise in treating neurological diseases

Cell Research

July 29, 1999
Web posted at: 2:02 p.m. EDT (1802 GMT)

(CNN) -- Researchers have successfully developed specialized cells from stem cells and transplanted them into the nervous system of rats to fight disease.

Although the technology is years away from application in humans, it is an important step in stem cell research. In November 1998, scientists announced for the first time that they were able to isolate stem cells, or blank cells, that could specialize into any kind of cell for the body -- neurons, blood, muscle, bone.

In this newest research, to be reported in Friday's Science magazine, scientists took stem cells, manipulated them into neural cells and injected them into fetal or newborn rats with a disease in which the coating around nerve fibers is missing.

The cells had been developed into key cells of the nervous system that were able to promote the grown of myelin covering to help nerves function normally.

Ian Duncan, a University of Wisconsin researcher, said in a statement the treatment replaces lost myelin but does not stop the disease.

Tumors, which often grow when undifferentiated cells are placed into animals, did not form in the rats, but more research into the risk is needed, researchers said.

"This is the first study showing that embryonic stem cells can be used for brain and spinal cord repair in an animal model of a human neurological disease," said researcher Oliver BrŸstle, a neuropathologist at the University of Bonn in Germany.

The technology is not without controversy. Stem cells are commonly culled from human embryos, a procedure which kills the embryos and is currently banned from receiving federal funding. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission is on the verge of releasing a report on whether that policy should change.



RELATED STORIES:
Ethical concerns surround stem-cell research
June 14, 1999
Ethics Matters: Embryonic Ethics
Stroke researchers focus on brain cell treatments
February 5, 1999
Stem cells promise big breakthroughs in treating disease
January 21, 1999
U.S. government to fund controversial stem cell research
January 19, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Science
University of Wisconsin
National Bioethics Advisory Commission
University of Bonn
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