New hope for repairing diseased or damaged brains

November 25, 2011 by Amara D. Angelica

Two exciting landmark studies of ways to repair damaged or diseased brains have just been published, and are discussed on KurzweilAI today.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that when neurons generated from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) were implanted into the hippocampus of a mouse, the neurons began to behave like normal rat neurons. That means that for humans in the future, there could be limitless supplies of healthy, specialized cells to replace diseased or damaged cells for brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

The Harvard-Massachusetts General-Beth Israel study addressed the same problem, but injected embryonic mouse (instead of human) neurons into the hypothalamus of mice unable to respond to leptin (a hormone that regulates metabolism and controls body weight). They found that the neuron transplants were able to repair defective hypothalamus brain circuits, enabling the mice to respond normally to leptin and thus experience substantially less weight gain.

These studies only address two (albeit important) brain areas, but the researchers are optimistic that these studies will lead to the ability to repair and grow diseased or damaged brain cells in higher-level conditions, such as spinal cord injury, autism, epilepsy, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.

Meanwhile, progress in another vital approach to repair damaged nerves — medical micropower network systems (which transmit movement commands from a sensor on a patient’s spinal cord via special processors to implants that electrically stimulate nerves) is hitting a possible roadblock: the FCC may deny access to four sets of frequencies between 413MHz and 457MHz (also used for TV and radio signals) due to concern that the broadcast signals might interfere with the body networks.

For some of the millions of people in the U.S. (and possibly some of the hundreds of millions in some other countries) affected by neurological disorders,  live TV streaming via Google TV, Apple TV, Amazon Instant Video, and other digital alternatives to broadcasting may be looking like a good idea.