Exosomes derived from stem cells have the potential to regenerate damaged brain cells, and could someday be used for to treat brain damage and neural degeneration diseases, researchers from the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) said yesterday.
Team leader Li Hua-jung (李華容), an associate investigator at the Institute of Cellular and System Medicine, told a news conference in Taipei that brain damage and neurodegenerative diseases often cause irreversible impairment for patients, and increase the risk of dementia.
More than 270,000 people in Taiwan are estimated to have dementia, which is a big challenge to the nation’s aging society, she said.
Photo: Lin Hui-chin, Taipei Times
Traumatic brain injury, unhealthy habits, hypertension, diabetes, long-term stress or mental illness are all potential risk factors for brain damage and neurodegenerative disease, she said.
Although clinical studies have suggested that stem cells have the potential to repair a damaged central nervous system, there are risks of complications from implantation, ectopic tissue formation and unwanted engraftment, Li said.
Her team spent seven years studying alternatives, and discovered that exosomes secreted by mesenchymal stem cells found in human bone marrow or fat tissues contain substances that can facilitate cranial nerve regeneration and brain functional recovery.
The exosomes are tiny vesicles that contain genetic information and biologically active substances, including proteins, RNA and other substances, and serve as mediators in cell-to-cell communication, she said.
As exosomes do not have a nucleus and will not grow after implantation, using them in therapy might reduce many of the safety concerns related to the use of living stem cells, she said.
After injecting such exosomes into brain-damaged mice, the team found that after a week the mice’s damaged nerve cells gradually grew synapses, and after a month the number of nerve cells in the damaged brain area was restored to about 60 percent, with the mice showing improvement in cognition, learning and memory.
The study showed that stem cell-derived exosomes have the potential to treat brain damage and neural degeneration diseases, and could possibly be developed for treating degenerative diseases, tissue or organ damage, cell deficiency, Parkinson’s disease or other diseases, Li said, adding that the team has patented their discovery in Taiwan and is applying for patents in the US, the UK and Japan.
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