Stem Cell Breakthrough

By: Justin Williams
By: Justin Williams

It's being billed as a scientific breakthrough. Xue-Jun Li says, "I was very exciting, the first time, after I really got the very, very high population of the cells, what I want."

Since 2001, Li's been a part of a team of researchers, led by University of Wisconsin instructor, Dr. Su–Chun Zhang, which has been trying to develop a method to guide stem cell development. They've succeeded. Dr. Zhang explains, "Now we direct this neuro stem cell further down on the load, to become more specialized cells. Now, they are motor neurons."

Motor neurons are responsible for almost all bodily movement. The new development gives hope to people who suffer from degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, who now see the potential for cures, more clearly. Zhang adds, "You can use this cell to identify many other ways to deal with the disease."

Dr. Zhang's team has already begun testing the motor neurons on chick embryos to monitor both their survival and maturation rates. But the team urges interested doctors and their patients to be just that, patient. "You always ask the same kind of question, “When will it be ready?” Right? But the reality is this is just the first step, how to get the very naïve stem cell to a more specialized cell."

The next step in his research, according to Dr. Zhang, will involve using the cells to screen drugs designed to defeat those degenerative diseases.

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