Human Stem Cells Found to Restore Memory – Technology Review


Last week, a California biotech company announced that its human stem cells restored memory in rodents bred to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition—the first evidence that human neural stem cells can improve memory. 

The company, called StemCells, is betting that its proprietary preparation of stem cells from fetal brain tissue will take on many different roles in the central nervous system. The company and its collaborators have already shown that its stem-cell product has potential in protecting vision in diseased eyes, acting as brain support cells, or improving walking ability in rodents with spinal cord injury.

This metamorphic ability is not so surprising—they are stem cells, after all. But experts say the quality of scientists involved in StemCells and the interesting properties of its cells sets the company apart. “They’ve really been steadfast in their work to get these cells into clinical trials. That is a tough road and they’ve done it,” says Larry Goldstein, a neuronal stem-cell researcher and director of UC San Diego’s stem-cell program.

The company discovered the technique to isolate these cells from brain tissue in 1999 and has since spent some $200 million improving the technology. “Now we are really in the exciting phase, because now we are looking at human clinical data, as opposed to just small animals,” says StemCells CEO Martin McGlynn.

His company is not the only group bringing stem cells into the clinic. While much attention was paid to Geron’s departure from the world’s first embryonic stem cell trial (see “Geron Shuts Down Pioneering Stem-Cell Program”), many other groups have continued to push their non-embryonic stem-cell therapies forward for leukemia, colitis, stroke, and more. Meanwhile, Advanced Cell Technology continues its U.K.-based embryonic stem-cell therapy trials for blindness. Non-embryonic stem cells can come from a variety of sources—bone marrow, blood, as well as donated aborted fetal tissue, as is the case with StemCells and Neuralstem, another company focused on neuronal stem cells. In recent years, scientists have also developed methods for turning normal adult cells into stem cells (so-called induced pluripotent stem cells), but their safety has yet to be tested in humans.

Written By: Susan Young
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  1. I do support stem cell research, but I just could not work with “donated aborted fetal tissue” without feeling horrid and nauseous. Honestly, I would probably faint.

  2. Embryonic stem cells are derived from pluripotent cells, which are found in the blastocyst, about 4 days after fertilization. Pluripotent cells have the ability to become one of three types of tissue. It’s not aborted fetal tissue – it’s generally derived from eggs that have been fertilized but not used and would otherwise be discarded.

  3.  Consider, if the aborted fetas’ could express an opinion, perhaps they would want to help others, If so, would you be doing them a favour by carrying out their wishes?

  4. Well, that is a pointless hypothetical argument because a fetus can not express an opinion. But I think it is profoundly dehumanizing for Stemcells to proudly announce ” …as well as donated fetal tissue” 

  5. But, on the subject of this topic. I thought it was to good to be true when I read the title. Restore memory, as in, I forgot something I used to know because I have altzheimers but through stemcell therapy I have now regained that bit of memory. That’s what it sounded like to me. I think they mean that the ability to store memories in your brain is restored after the treatment.

    Wait, let’s read the article again, I think I forgot… er… darn

  6. Only the first sentence of the article actually pertains to the headline. But the StemCells website has more information on the latest study. They only did the recognition tests after the treatment, so, behaviorally, they were only able to demonstrate that the treated mice did better than the untreated mice in forming memories. But physiologically, more connections were formed between cells in the hippocampus, and it has been shown before (in a previous study) that when the normal function in the hippocampus is restored, memories (acquired before the damage) are also restored.

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