Researchers at The Salk Institute have developed a way to grow vital brain cells called astrocytes from stem cells, a potential breakthrough for basic and clinical research into several diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS).
The study “Differentiation of Inflammation-responsive Astrocytes from Glial Progenitors Generated from Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells” was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Research in neurosciences has been focused on neurons, the basic working unit of the brain. But neurons do not work alone, with a plethora of other cells carrying out vital functions in the brain. One is a group of star-shaped support cells called astrocytes.
Scientist working at The Salk Institute in California have now developed a method for generating astrocytes from stem cells.
“This work represents a big leap forward in our ability to model neurological disorders in a dish,” Rusty Gage, the study’s lead author and a Salk professor who holds the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease, said in a press release. “Because inflammation is the common denominator in many brain disorders, better understanding astrocytes and their interactions with other cell types in the brain could provide important clues into what goes wrong in disease.”
Astrocytes provide neurons with energy and work as a platform to clean up their waste.They also have other functions within the brain, like regulating blood flow and inflammation.
Ways of differentiating astrocytes from human stem cells already exist, but are known to be laborious and functionally limited. Using this new method, researchers were able to generate astrocytes more efficiently — using the right “cocktail” of factors at the right time and settings. The functionality of these astrocytes is also closer to those in the brain, being, for example, sensitive to inflammation.
Astrocytes generated using this method are also able to be grown with neurons, which will allow researchers to study the interactions between both cell types to better determine what goes awry in disease.
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