Davis learned that other research groups had found components on oligodendrocytes that bind with the hormone norephinephrine, suggesting the cells normally interact with this chemical and that it might be one of the factors that stimulates their production. So, she decided this would be a good starting point.
In early tests, she found that norepinephrine, along with other stem cell growth promoters, caused the umbilical stem cells to convert, or differentiate, into oligodendrocytes. However, that conversion only went so far. The cells grew but then stopped short of reaching a level similar to what's found in the human nervous system.
Davis decided that, in addition to chemistry, the physical environment might be critical.
To more closely approximate the physical restrictions cells face in the body, Davis set up a more confined, three-dimensional environment, growing cells on top of a microscope slide, but with a glass slide above them. Only after making this change, and while still providing the norephinphrine and other chemicals, would the cells fully mature into oligodendrocytes.
"We realized that the stem cells are very sensitive to environmental conditions," Davis said.
This growth of oligodendrocytes, while crucial, is only a first step to potential medical treatments. There are two main options the group hopes to pursue through further research. The first is that the cells could be injected into the body at the point of a spinal cord injury to promote repair.
Another intriguing possibility for the Hickman team's work relates to multiple sclerosis and similar conditions. "Multiple sclerosis is one of the holy grails for this kind of research," said Hickman, whose group is collaborating with Stephen Lambert at UCF's medical school, another of
|Contact: Barbara Abney|
University of Central Florida