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UQ researcher tracking key to healing the brain

Stem cells have long been described as the holy grail of bioscientists. These amazing cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body and have to potential to revolutionise medical science. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish cells lost due to everyday wear and tear, or following injury or disease.

Dr Rod Rietze, head of the Queensland Brain Institute's (QBI) Laboratory for Neural Stem Cell Biology, is hoping those stem cells may soon unlock the secrets to healing the brain as well.

First he has to find out what they actually do - something that has been notoriously hard to do in the past. Dr Rietze is a finalist in the UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards, to be announced tomorrow as a highlight of UQ Research Week 2005. He is working on a project with a novel approach to track neural stem cells in vivo.

"Identifying neural stem cells is like finding a needle in a haystack," Dr Rietze said.

"The tried and true method is to look for particular markers on the outside of the cell, but this is a long and laborious process.

"What we are doing is looking at a distinguishing attribute of stem cells, which is that they are relatively quiescent, or don't divide much in relation to other cells.

"This will enable us to determine, for the first time, the precise location and prevalence of neural stem cells in situ, which in turn will allow us to determine more rapidly and accurately the role played by stem cells in the mammalian brain and spinal cord under normal conditions and following injuries."

He said at the moment, scientists rely on tissue culture methods to guess what is happening inside the body, but this new approach will mean they will be able to track the cells while they are working in the body, a major leap forward.

"Defining the role and regulation of neural stem cells in the ad
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Source:Research Australia


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