Applying findings in neurogenesis to human diseases requires much speculation. Although science has made significant progress in unlocking the complicated story that is neurogenesis, many years of work remain before drugs and therapies become available on the market. Currently, there are two leading fields in medicinal development that have garnered much attention: drugs and neural stem cells. This page serves to introduce each topic, and explore some of the possibilities and theories that scientists are working to make reality.
Neurogenesis has recently been linked to diseases of the central nervous system, and this presents some exciting opportunities for helping millions of people affected by these disorders. One of the leading companies producing new technology is a company called Brain Cells Inc. founded by Fred Gage and Rene Hen.
There are a wealth of human diseases that damage the human brain and can be treated by neurogenic therapeutics. While most of these drugs are still in developmental phases, there is certainly high demand for such treatments. Brain Cells Inc. is one of many small companies that are eagerly working to develop drugs that may one day alleviate millions of people.
In 2008 neuropharmeceuticals generated approximately $100 billion worldwide and represented the largest selling category of drugs on the market. Brain Cells Inc. currently has two drugs in Phase II clinical trials: BCI-540 and BCI-952. BCI-540 may one day be used to treat both depression and anxiety – two ailments that affect large quantities of people. The drug does not work on norepinephrine or serotonin receptors, which is different than many other drugs used to treat this disease. Because of this, it is possible that BCI-540 may be used to treat patients that respond poorly to current treatments. BCI-952 uses two compounds in conjunction with one another, which has been shown to increase neurogenesis. In order to test these results, Brain Cells Inc. has also created a platform that is capable of testing over 1,000 compounds and analyzing their impact on neurogenesis.
Brain Cells Inc. has developed several chemical cocktails that are the platform for this company’s promising research. The three drug combinations are called BCI-540, BCI-632, and BCI-952.
Because neurogenesis is still a relatively young research field, there is still much to be learned. Scientists will be able to design more therapeutics as research unlocks the wealth of questions that still remain regarding neurogenesis. The future of these applications may include drugs designed to target neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. While these drugs are still things of the future, scientists are hard at work attempting to discover and design new drugs that will undoubtedly help millions of people.
NEURAL STEM CELL (NSC) THERAPIES
Another therapeutic avenue for neurogenesis is the use of neural stem cells (NSCs) to promote the reformation of damaged brain tissue. A recent study, undergone in 2009, explored the use of neural stem cells to repair damages caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Here, scientists implanted NSCs into a rat forebrain with Alzheimers and observed the stem cells successfully differentiate into neurons. While the implications for human therapies remain highly speculative, this does provide hope that one day, with proper stem cell and chemical treatments, we may be able to stimulate regrowth of functional brain tissue.
There is also hope for another form of neurdegenerative disease: Parkinson’s. This disease results from a loss of dopamine in the nervouse system which leads to decreased stimulation of the motor cortex – the area of our brain responsible for movement and coordination. Here, scientists hope to devise a method in which neural stem cells can be differentiated into cells capable of secreting dopamine. According to the theory, should these cells be able to establish themselves in the neural network it is possible that normal dopamine levels and brain function will be restored.
Before scientists are able to successfully treat neurodegenerative disorders by using stem cells, there are many obstacles to be overcome. According to a Nature article by Lindvall et al., we must first learn to control cell proliferation and differentiation, induce integration, and optimize survival rates in vivo. In other words, there is still much research to be done in the human model before any true applications can be derived.
One company devoted to overcoming these obstacles and generating human therapies from nerual stem cells is Neuralstem Inc. This company is devising methods to isolate, multiply, and integrate NSCs into the human central nervous system to treat a variety of different neural disorders. A basic overview of this methodology can be seen here.
By: Avi Goch & Alex Crespo