A critical tool that allowed the UW group to answer this question was a new technology known as optogenetics, where light, instead of electric current, is used to stimulate the activity of the neurons.
"Previously, we've been limited in how efficiently we could stimulate transplanted cells. Now we have a tool that allows us to specifically stimulate only the transplanted human cells, and lots of them at once in a non-invasive way," says Weick.
Weick explains that the capacity to modulate the implanted cells was a necessary step in determining the function of implanted cells because previous technologies were too imprecise and unreliable to accurately determine what transplanted neurons were doing.
Embryonic stem cells, and the closely related induced pluripotent stem cells can give rise to all of the 220 types of tissues in the human body, and have been directed in the lab to become many types of cells, including brain cells.
The appeal of human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent cells is the potential to manufacture limitless supplies of healthy, specialized cells to replace diseased or damaged cells. Brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more widely known as Lou Gehrig's disease, are conditions that scientists think may be alleviated by using healthy lab grown cells to replace faulty ones. Multiple studies over the past decade have shown that both embryonic stem cells and induced cells can alleviate deficits of these disorders in animal models.
The new study opens the door to the potential for clinicians to deploy light-based stimulation technology to manipulate transplanted tissue and cells. "The marriage between stem cells and optogenetics has the potential to assist in the treatment of a number of debilitating neurodegenerative disorders," notes Su-Chun Zhang, a UW-Madison professor of neuroscience and an author of the new PNAS report. "You can imagin
|Contact: Jason P. Weick |
University of Wisconsin-Madison