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April 18, 2016   Columns Articles | Research News | Researchers track neural stem cells by coloring chicken…

Researchers track neural stem cells by coloring chicken eggs

Charlene Betourney

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Regenerative Bioscience CenterCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
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By Charlene Betourney | April 18, 2016
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An overwhelming number of researchers still struggle within the black hole of the effectiveness and safety of stem cell therapy for neurological diseases. While the complexity of understanding how neurons grow, connect and function has long been studied, it remains a mystery, one that graduate student Forrest Goodfellow in the UGA Regenerative Bioscience Center is helping unravel.

Goodfellow has developed a unique approach of marrying stem cell biology and 3-D imaging to track and label neural stem cells. His findings were published in the journal Advanced Functional Material.

Using microscopic iron beads and a chicken egg, he and his colleagues were able to label neural stem cells and watch them for multiple days using magnetic resonance imaging—without harming the cell.

Very little is known about the unusual behavior of neural stem cells after experimental treatment. Understanding their whereabouts, keeping them safe from the body's own immune system and tracking the intended destination for repair in a noninvasive manner is the next important step in regenerative medicine therapy.

"The unknown is that big ‘black box' when people inject neural stem cells and have no idea where they go or what they do. It's pretty invasive and inaccurate," said Steven Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center housed in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The question remains, he said, of whether injecting neural stem cells to restore damaged neurons and allowing the body to heal as it is meant to naturally really delay the onset of symptoms, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

To answer that question, Goodfellow painstakingly labeled neural stem cells with extremely small iron beads and then transplanted the cell into a chicken embryo.

"We went to great pains to prove and demonstrate that our labeling method does not harm the stem cells," Goodfellow said. "If we are altering transplanted stem cells that we hope will be an effective treatment, then it's a moot point if we do it blindly."

In addition to developing a chick model and applications for toxicology testing in the near future, Goodfellow and his team hope that this project may finally shed some light on the uncertainty surrounding neural stem cells and the great therapeutic promise for healing patients after stroke and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

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