BRAIN GROWTH: To replace brain cells lost to neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, some researchers are experimenting with grafts of fetal brain tissue and injections of young neurons grown from stem cells in the lab. Image: Bryan Christie
- The emerging field of regenerative medicine may one day revolutionize the treatment of heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders, solve the organ donor shortage problem, and completely restore damaged muscles, tendons and other tissues.
- The key, researchers are learning, is to give the body a kind of starter kit—made of various proteins, fibers or cells—or to clone extra copies of the semispecialized stem cells that are already found in adult patients and to allow the body to take over from there.
- The extra help allows the body to regrow tissues of the type or in the amount that it normally could not do by itself. Already such self-healing treatments have somewhat rejuvenated a few patients' ailing hearts and helped surgeons repair injured muscles.
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Inside the human brain, branching neurons grow beside, around and on top of one another like trees in a dense forest. Scientists used to think that any neurons that wilted and died from injury or disease were gone forever because the brain had no way to replace those cells. By the 1990s, however, most neuroscientists had accepted that the adult brain cultivates small gardens of stem cells that can turn into mature neurons.
This article was originally published with the title Replanting the Brain's Forest.