, Volume 331, Issue 1, pp 301-322

Human stem cells for CNS repair

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Abstract

Although most peripheral tissues have at least a limited ability for self-repair, the central nervous system (CNS) has long been known to be relatively resistant to regeneration. Small numbers of stem cells have been found in the adult brain but do not appear to be able to affect any significant recovery following disease or insult. In the last few decades, the idea of being able to repair the brain by introducing new cells to repair damaged areas has become an accepted potential treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. This review focuses on the suitability of various human stem cell sources for such treatments of both slowly progressing conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and acute insult, such as stroke and spinal cord injury. Despite stem cell transplantation having now moved a step closer to the clinic with the first trials of autologous mesenchymal stem cells, the effects shown are moderate and are not yet at the stage of development that can fulfil the hopes that have been placed on stem cells as a means to replace degenerating cells in the CNS. Success will depend on careful investigation in experimental models to enable us to understand not just the practicalities of stem cell use, but also the underlying biological principles.