In the lab, the iPS cells were converted into neural progenitor cells. These intermediate-stage cells can further specialize into the neurons that carry nerve signals, and the glial cells that perform many support and nutritional functions. This final stage of maturation occurred inside the monkey.
Zhang, who was the first in the world to derive neural cells from embryonic stem cells and then iPS cells, says one key to success was precise control over the development process. "We differentiate the stem cells only into neural cells. It would not work to transplant a cell population contaminated by non-neural cells."
Another positive sign was the absence of any signs of cancer, says Zhang a worrisome potential outcome of stem cell transplants. "Their appearance is normal, and we also used antibodies that mark cells that are dividing rapidly, as cancer cells are, and we do not see that. And when you look at what the cells have become, they become neurons with long axons [conducting fibers], as we'd expect. They also produce oligodendrocytes that are helping build insulating myelin sheaths for neurons, as they should. That means they have matured correctly, and are not cancerous."
The experiment was designed as a proof of principle, says Zhang, who leads a group pioneering the use of iPS cells at the Waisman Center on the UW-Madison campus. The researchers did not transplant enough neurons to replace the dopamine-making cells in the brain, and the animal's behavior did not improve.
Although promising, the transplant technique is a long way from the clinic, Zhang adds. "Unfortunately, this technique cannot be used to help patients until a number of questions are answered: Can this transplant improve the symptoms? Is it safe? Six months is not long enough And what are the side effects? You may improve some symptoms, but if that leads to som
|Contact: Su-Chun Zhang|
University of Wisconsin-Madison