By using the new disease model, the researchers discovered an approach to instruct so-called stem cells to produce neurons. This kick-started repair processes. Experts call this phenomenon 'neuronal regeneration'.
"Neural stem cells are the progenitors of neurons. They occur naturally in the brain and as such they constitute a reservoir for new neurons. However, in Alzheimer's neural stem cells lose this ability and therefore cannot replace neurons lost due to the disease," explains Dr. Caghan Kizil, head of the current study and research group leader at the DZNE and the CRTD. "Our results suggest that modulating the immune system can unlock the potential of neural stem cells to build new neurons. These new cells foster regeneration and could possibly help the brain to better cope with the disease. This points to a potential approach to therapy, which we intend to further explore. If it will work out in humans, we cannot say at this stage. At present, this is still fundamental research."
Disease - Model - Stem - Cells - Polymer
The new disease model is based on human stem cells that are embedded in a polymer hydrogels. This soft and transparent biomaterial consists of the glycosaminoglycan heparin, the synthetic polymer poly(ethylene glycol) and various functional peptide units. The cell cultures are then grown in small culture wells of less than one milliliter volume. "The tunable polymer system allowed to combine effective molecular and physical signals that direct the cells to generate three-dimensional networks reminiscent of the neuronal webs of the human brain," emphasizes Carsten Werner, director of the biomaterials program at IPF and professor of Biofunctional Polymer Materials at the CRTD. He points out that the current setup could be further miniaturized: "The size of the culture environment is hardly relevant. In principle, we could work with considerably smaller volumes."
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