Stem Cell Applications for Neurosurgery

Modern restorative neurosurgery began about 30 years ago when neurosurgeons and neurobiologists envisioned the possibility of replacing degenerating neurons in patients who had diseases like Parkinson's and Huntington's. At the time it was believed that neurons could not regenerate, a theory that was disproved in the 1990s. Therefore, early clinical trials were based first on a direct approach, targeting the replacement of missing specific brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) rather than regenerating the damaged neuronal circuitry. More recently, with the advent of treatment strategies developed from experimental work with stem and progenitor cells, there is hope that the final goal of reconstructing neuronal pathways may be achieved. The goals of this field can be summarized as replacement, release and regeneration. That is, dead neurons have to be replaced, the grafts have to be able to release neurotransmitters and circuits have to be rebuilt. Of course, these goals can be fulfilled only if scientists' understanding of the mechanisms of disease keeps up with the pace of development of new bioengineering strategies.

Currently grafts from fetal tissue, tumor lines and stem cells have been transplanted. Successes in animal models have led to transplant trials in the human population to treat Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, spinal cord injury and stroke. As research on animal models progresses, transplant trials may be initiated for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, ALS, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

The AANS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products or physicians referenced in these patient fact sheets. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific neurosurgical advice or assistance should consult his or her neurosurgeon, or locate one in your area through the AANS’ Find a Board-certified Neurosurgeon online tool.