Blue Sky Science: Can we use stem cells to treat brain injury or neurological disorders?

Kate Krueger

Can we use stem cells to treat brain injury or neurological disorders?

The simple answer to the question is yes. It is possible to regenerate parts of the brain with stem cells, just like we can in other organs.

Although it’s not possible in humans at this point, animal models have clearly demonstrated that the injection of stem cells directly into the hippocampus, for example, can restore memory in models of both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

In cases of traumatic brain injury, also in animal models, injection of stem cells into damaged regions allowed for the repopulation of those areas of the brain and the increase of cognitive performance.

A more indirect way of using stem cells to tackle Alzheimer’s disease and improve cognitive performance is to increase sex hormone levels. It’s well known that as people age, sex hormones decline, and those declines lead to cognitive problems.

We can use stem cells to repopulate the gonads, or sex organs, with the cells that normally produce these hormones. This can get hormones back into balance and improve cognitive function as we age.

We’re only now just starting to perform the experiments to rebalance sex hormones, but all evidence suggests that this is a strategy that can work. I anticipate a lot of research will be performed over the next decade to bring this new and exciting possibility to fruition.