Neural stem cells

01
Nov 2016
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Schizophrenia linked to neural stem cells producing too few neurons

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Japanese researchers have found that a genetic mutation linked to schizophrenia changes the way brain cells develop and differentiate.

According to a report in today’s Guardian newspaper, the alteration of cell development in the brain changes the normal balance of neurons (nerve cells) and connective tissue in the brain (glia).…

Japanese researchers have found that a genetic mutation linked to schizophrenia changes the way brain cells develop and differentiate.

According to a report in today’s Guardian newspaper, the alteration of cell development in the brain changes the normal balance of neurons (nerve cells) and connective tissue in the brain (glia).

The researchers’ findings, published in Translational Psychiatry, suggest that abnormal neural differentiation leads to fewer neurons and more non-neuronal cells being produced during early stages of brain development, which could be contributing to the presence of the disease.

Dr. Manabu Toyoshima of Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Institute extracted skin cells from two female schizophrenic patients and two healthy individuals, then reprogrammed them to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which are like embryonic stem cells in that they have the capacity to differentiate into any cell type in the body.

In essence, the scientists found that the neurospheres (clusters of neural stem cells) derived from the IPS cells of the schizophrenic patients were smaller and produced fewer neurons but significantly more astrocytes — star shaped glial cells.

The findings could help scientists better understand the origins of schizophrenia, a common form of mental illness that affects about one in 100 people and, as the Guardian points out, “is known to be highly heritable, but is genetically complex.”

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04
Jul 2016
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Will stem cells repair damaged brains?

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Is it possible that stem cells will some day repair brain tissue damaged by tumours, epilepsy or injuries?

The Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the Ontario Brain Institute are hosting a free public event Tuesday, July 12 to shed light on possibilities, provide information on stem cell research and discuss realistically what the future holds. …

Is it possible that stem cells will some day repair brain tissue damaged by tumours, epilepsy or injuries?

The Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the Ontario Brain Institute are hosting a free public event Tuesday, July 12 to shed light on possibilities, provide information on stem cell research and discuss realistically what the future holds. It begins at  6:30 p.m. at the Toronto Reference Library and features  neuroscientist/researcher Dr. Cindi Morshead of the University of Toronto and neurosurgeon/researcher Dr. Michael Fehlings of University Health Network.

This is an area where Canadian researchers excel: neural stem cells were discovered in Canada by Dr. Sam Weiss at the University of Calgary.  Research into the use of stem cells to regenerate damaged brain cells is in the early stages, but has many potential applications for neurological diseases and damage including stroke and spinal cord repair.

Admission is free but space is limited. For more information, and to register click here.

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17
Mar 2015
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Tricky science made simple, final chapter

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This week is Brain Awareness Week, a global initiative to raise awareness of the progress being made in brain research.…

This week is Brain Awareness Week, a global initiative to raise awareness of the progress being made in brain research.

To mark the occasion, we are unveiling a new video in our Stem Cell Shorts series that will come as good news to anyone who has ever struggled to understand the complexity of the human nervous system. It is a great resource for non-scientists to quickly grasp how the nervous system works and how stem cells can improve its functions.

“What is a neural stem cell?” is the final episode of the series launched in fall 2013 and produced by Ben Paylor, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Mike Long, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto.

The last chapter is narrated by Dr. Sam Weiss, director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary and the scientist who discovered neural stem cells in 1992. His discovery led to an understanding of how stem cells stimulate neural development throughout our lives. Currently, Dr. Weiss is leading research in neural stem cell biology with the ultimate goal of advancing patient care, prevention, treatment and management of devastating conditions, such as brain tumours, stroke and multiple sclerosis.

The remarkable video animation project includes seven other subjects:

  • “What is a stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Jim Till;
  •  “What are embryonic stem cells?” narrated by Dr. Janet Rossant;
  • “What are induced pluripotent stem cells?” narrated by Dr. Mick Bhatia;
  • “What is stem cell tourism?” narrated by Prof. Timothy Caulfield;
  • “What is a cancer stem cell?” narrated by Dr. John Dick;
  • “What is a retinal stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Derek van der Kooy; and
  • :What is a hematopoietic stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Connie Eaves

The Foundation joined the Stem Cell Network in funding the production of the Phase 2 of the project, which included five animated installments.

We hope you enjoy the final chapter of the series. And for those who missed some earlier episodes, they are available here.

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02
Mar 2015
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What’s Sam Weiss excited about?

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Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s final instalment, we interviewed Dr. Samuel Weiss is a Professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Departments of Cell Biology and Anatomy and Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Calgary and Director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. In 1992, he discovered adult neural stem cells. He shared his thoughts on cancer stem cells (cells that can initiate tumours and that cause cancer to return) and advances being made in brain cancer research. 

There is a significant move afoot to apply the knowledge we have gained to understand the stem cell biology of brain tumours. We learned a lot about normal neural stem cells and then there was a big flurry after brain tumour stem cells were identified (in 2004) by Peter Dirks (University of Toronto) and others. Now we’re entering an era of greater sophistication in terms of understanding of the various cell types that make up a brain tumour, because there is still a need to fundamentally understand how a very small number of cells, even a single cell, can end up producing a massive tumour.

That’s part of where I’m going. My lab, working with many others, has also been involved in the development and testing of new compounds. And we have the first compound that we identified in the lab as being very powerful in terms of its ability to block brain tumour initiating cells in cell culture — as well as prolonging survival of xenografted animals – is moving into a clinical trial.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, what’s exciting is that we published the paper in Clinical Cancer Research in October and simultaneously announced that AstraZeneca had agreed to test it in the clinic — and in Canada first. It will be led out of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre by Dr. Warren Mason. We are able to collapse the timeframe from publishing our results to testing them in the clinic to less than a year. It shows that we are developing a strategy, based on the science and based on cancer stem cells, to help accelerate testing of new compounds for cancer.

We all know that many compounds need to be tested before a new one is likely to have a big impact, especially in a heterogeneous disease like brain cancer, but at the very least, the approach, which was championed initially by Dr. David Kaplan (The Hospital for Sick Children) through a Stem Cell Network grant and then by the Terry Fox Research Institute, has allowed us to begin bringing compounds to the clinic in a timely fashion.

That’s a predictor of some of the things to come. In fact, we have another (compound) that is very close. We’re working with a biotech company in the States and finalizing the last series of experiments.  We will be meeting with them in Chicago in June at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings and there may be a second compound in the clinic before the end of the year.

Five to 10 years ago, you would never have suggested that laboratory-based results would be moving from the lab to clinical testing in months rather than years.

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