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Child Neuropsychology

A blog by Dr Jonathan Reed

  • A new study on the benefits of stem cell therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis is a very exciting one for all neuroscience. The study shows that by giving stem cells to MS patients, disability is halted or reversed. The study included measures of neuropsychological function as well as neurological rating scales and quality of life. Improvements in these areas were seen in 17 out of 21 patients and there was no deterioration in the other 4. The reason why it is so important lies in the use of stem cells. The problem with all neurological disability including childhood brain injury is that the brain can not repair itself. This is to do with the way the brain develops. The brain starts to develop at 40 days old with stem cells lining the neural tube. The stem cells turn into precursor cells, then blast cells and then specialized neurological cells. The whole process lasts until the fetus is approximately 6 months old. It is an amazing process with cells developing at the rapid rate of approximately 250,000 a minutes. However, by the end of six months the process stops and you are left with the brain that will last you the rest of your life. If you damage the cells in your brain they will not grow back in the same ways as skin and bone cells would. This is the reason why neurological injury is so hard to treat. If, however, we can replicate the natural development process by using stem cells the possibility is there to treat all neurological disability. It is still early days in terms of this research but these findings are very encouraging. A major problem has been that you basically need to use embryos to produce the stem cells. The recent Bush government in the US was against this on religious and moral grounds. There are however, some new discoveries now in using adult stem cells from different areas of the body. Also it is believed that Barak Obama will allow the stem cell research to start again. Just recently the FDA in the US approved use of stem cells in human medical trials for spinal chord injury. If the research does take off and if these early research findings are replicated there is the very exciting prospect of new treatments for neurological disability in the future.