UMDNJ scientist aids study on brain repair

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
A research team that includes a New Jersey scientist has identified two receptors that increase the number of restorative stem cells as a response to brain injury.

This knowledge, they contend, could lead to development of new drugs that target the two stem cell receptors — called EGFR and Notch1, gp-130 — which are key players in brain regeneration.

The research, conducted by Steve Levison, co-author of the study and professor of neurosci ence at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School in Newark, along with researchers from Penn State University and the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy in Milan, Italy, appears in the latest issue of The Journal of Neu roscience.

The researchers used a rat model to study a condition called perinatal hypoxia/ischemia, a disruption of blood and oxygen flowing to the brain of a newborn. The study revealed that a neonatal brain injury triggers a proliferation of stem cells within the brain, dou bling the number of these cells after just three days. This regeneration response is choreographed by the two specific receptors the researchers were able to identify.

“We’re beginning to identify some of the signals that are re quired to stimulate this repair process from these resident stem cells,” explained Levison. “There is a small response that naturally oc curs, so we need to expand this natural response to injury so we can have more complete repair of the brain after injury.”
He said the research could mean that in the future, transplanting new cells into the body — from embryonic stem cells — may not be necessary to cure some brain diseases.

In infants who have suffered brain damage, Levison said it may be possible to “go in and try to repair the brain while it is still developing,” enabling the infant to lead a more normal life.

Wise Young, professor and chairman of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Rutgers University, called the research “exciting” because of its potential implications in addressing condi tions such as cerebral palsy.

“This is really a very nice paper because it states very strongly that stem cells play a role in neonatal brain damage repair,” he said.

Levison said he and his team believe their findings will be applic able to conditions like cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

In addition, he said, adult stroke victims or individuals who have suffered traumatic brain inju ries also may benefit.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that this will really work some day,” Levison said.

Angela Stewart writes about health care. She may be reached at [email protected] or (973) 392-4178.

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