Research from A&M University has shown that doctors may someday be able to restore brain cells and cognitive function to aging brains using stem cells. Ashok K. Shetty, Ph.D, and his team at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine have developed a technique of grafting neural stem cells from a donor into an aged brain. These stem cells, implanted into the hippocampus, enabled an animal model to regenerate neural tissue. The hippocampus is known for its role in memories and emotion. The team’s research was published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Past research has shown that the hippocampus is especially subject to age related degeneration, declining in volume during the aging process. This could be related to problems with memory many people face as they age. As the hippocampus ages, it has been shown to exhibit chronic low-grade inflammation and other deterioration.

What this research proves is that the older hippocampus is able to accept grafted neural stem cells as successfully as a younger hippocampus, which may offer options for treating age-related neurodegenerative conditions in the future. The older animal models, 70 years old in human terms, who were included in the study, accepted grafted cells with the same ability as the younger animal models. The grafted cells survived, and even divided to form new cells. The donor cells were taken from the sub-ventricular zone, also called the “brain marrow,” because it is home to neural stem cells which persist through aging, continuing to produce neurons. Such stem cells can also respond to events like strokes or trauma by helping to replace lost cells.

Of particular interest is the fact that a percentage of grafted cells continued to produce new neurons three months or more after implantation. The researchers used a new technique of preparing the donor neural cells, which yielded these unprecedented results. Still, more research is needed to determine the technique’s ability to reverse degenerative disorders and improve age-related memory and learning. The team plans to focus next on the impact that these implanted cells have on behavior, to ascertain whether neural stem cells can reverse the effects of these degenerative conditions.

Research by Shetty has in the past focused on the benefits of antioxidants found in red wine and red grapes for the hippocampus. The new research examines a much more direct way to improve the functioning of the aged hippocampus.

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