FEB 08, 2019 5:20 PM PST

Drug Combination Generates New Neurons from Neighboring Cells

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

In a study published in Stem Cell Reports, scientists at Penn State University have developed a drug cocktail that converts neighboring cells—often known as glial cells-- of damaged neurons into functional new neurons. The study could open doors to treating stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and brain injuries. Glial cells normally provide support and insulation for neurons.

Learn more about glial cells:

"The biggest problem for brain repair is that neurons don't regenerate after brain damage, because they don't divide," explains research team leader and professor of biology and Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences at Penn State University. "In contrast, glial cells, which gather around damaged brain tissue, can proliferate after brain injury. I believe turning glial cells that are the neighbors of dead neurons into new neurons is the best way to restore lost neuronal functions."

The current research study tested various numbers and combinations of molecules that will identify a streamlined approach to the reprogramming of astrocytes, a type of glial cells, into neurons. The result was chemically converted neurons that can survive for a while in a culture dish. These neurons form robust neural networks that send electrical and chemical signals for communication—just as normal neurons do.

"We identified the most efficient chemical formula among the hundreds of drug combinations that we tested," says graduate student, Jiu-Chao Yin. "By using four molecules that modulate four critical signaling pathways in human astrocytes, we can efficiently turn human astrocytes -- as many as 70 percent -- into functional neurons."

A simple treatment using four small molecules converts human astrocytes – a common type of cells in the nervous system – into new neurons, which develop complex structures after 4 months, as pictured. Credit: Gong Chen Lab, Penn State

"The most significant advantage of the new approach is that a pill containing small molecules could be distributed widely in the world, even reaching rural areas without advanced hospital systems," said Chen. "My ultimate dream is to develop a simple drug delivery system, like a pill, that can help stroke and Alzheimer's patients around the world to regenerate new neurons and restore their lost learning and memory capabilities."

Source: Pennsylvania State University

About the Author
  • Nouran earned her BS and MS in Biology at IUPUI and currently shares her love of science by teaching. She enjoys writing on various topics as well including science & medicine, global health, and conservation biology. She hopes through her writing she can make science more engaging and communicable to the general public.
You May Also Like
SEP 20, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
New Drug Shows Promise in Treating Advanced COVID-19
SEP 20, 2020
New Drug Shows Promise in Treating Advanced COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the search for drugs to combat the virus is ongoing. Now, scientists have found that ...
OCT 07, 2020
Cancer
Delivering Cancer Drugs to Osteosarcoma with Nanoparticles
OCT 07, 2020
Delivering Cancer Drugs to Osteosarcoma with Nanoparticles
Over the years, cancer researchers have struggled not just with drug and diagnostic design, but with drug delivery. The ...
OCT 13, 2020
Immunology
Early Tips For Cell & Gene Therapy Regulatory Compliance
OCT 13, 2020
Early Tips For Cell & Gene Therapy Regulatory Compliance
Cell and gene therapies hold great promise for improved health outcomes. Now is the time to advance life-saving research ...
OCT 20, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
New Treatment Reverses Late Stage Type 2 Diabetes
OCT 20, 2020
New Treatment Reverses Late Stage Type 2 Diabetes
Researchers from the Netherlands have developed a minimally invasive therapeutic procedure that allows people to discont ...
NOV 08, 2020
Neuroscience
New Way to Restore Fatty Myelin Sheaths on Nerve Cells
NOV 08, 2020
New Way to Restore Fatty Myelin Sheaths on Nerve Cells
Researchers from the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center in the US have discovered a new approach to restore myelin sheaths, ...
NOV 28, 2020
Microbiology
Potential Treatment ID'ed for Emerging Viral Disease
NOV 28, 2020
Potential Treatment ID'ed for Emerging Viral Disease
A mosquito-borne virus called VEEV has been emerging in South America. It causes symptoms that make it difficult to dist ...
Loading Comments...