A recent study conducted by the Institute of Toxicology and Genetics (ITG) at the Karlshrue Institute of Technology (KIT), Karlshrue, Germany, targeting the workings behind specialized areas of brain, such as the thalamus, may have healing implications for stroke patients.

Steffen Scholpp, PhD, led the study and explains that, “Today, stroke is the most frequent cause of disability. For this reason, we have to find a strategy to activate stem cells such that the damaged tissue can be replaced.” The study reportedly focused on the thalamus because, “It is the central interface between the brain and outer world…” Scholpp says.

Researchers report that they utilized an animal model, studying zebrafish. According to researchers, they spotlighted the genetic factors Lhx2 and Lhx9 in the study, which control the development of nerves in the thalamus and without these factors the thalamus would accommodate undifferentiated nerve cells only. Study results yielding from the analysis of brain development in zebrafish suggest that parallel conclusions can be drawn between brain developments in all vertebrates, including human beings.

The research team adds that another factor, which behaves as an “adhesive” in the thalamus, was also identified during the study. The results indicate that the cell adhesion molecule Pch10b ensures the development of the thalamus without mixing surrounding brain areas. Researchers say that if this factor is lacking, the neurons differentiate, but do not locate their target destination. The team reports that its next objective is to activate these factors in vitro in undifferentiated cells first, to allow new thalamus tissue to form. Reportedly, biologists are already developing 2-dimesional cell culture systems and will start a 3-dimesional cell culture system in January. 

Scholpp articulates his optimism for the treatment implications of the study, “Of course, this will take some years. But it is our ultimate goal to take out quiescent stem cells from a stroke patient and to ‘switch on’ the specific development biology program in these cells outside the body. Finally, we plan to bring them back to the position of the damaged tissue,” Scholpp says.

The German Research Foundation (DGF) recently provided Scholpp with a EUR 1.3 million grant through the Emmy Noether program, allowing him to further his research.

Source: KIT