A new study on mice by researchers in the US has found that stimulating a protein on the surface of the brain’s stem cells helps the rodents recover after a stroke, thus suggesting that the same could be possible in humans as well, and that it may be an alternative to growing and transplanting new cells.
The study was conducted by Ronald McKay and his colleagues at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.
They found that a protein called Notch, which sits on cell surfaces and is vital for the correct growth of embryos, can boost the survival of three different types of stem cell.
As a part of the study, the researchers studied rats afflicted with a stroke-like brain injury that normally dulls their movement.
According to Nature magazine, when they infused the animals’ brains for one week with a molecule that stimulates Notch, the animals’ movements improved. The rats also sprouted a collection of new cells in the brain.
Though the researchers are as yet unsure that the treatment will work for humans who have suffered a stroke as stimulating Notch could have many other, perhaps unwanted, effects in the brain, but the study suggests that in the future drugs can be used to provoke Notch or a related protein to persuade stem cells in the brain or other tissues to do what doctors want.
They researchers also found that rousing Notch stops stem cells from dying within minutes, and that this rapid effect suggests that Notch has knock-on effects on signals being transmitted within the cell.
The team showed that triggering the survival pathway helps both human embryonic stem cells and cells from the developing mouse pancreas survive in a dish. This suggests that this same mechanism could be common in many, or even most, stem cells.