In the past decade, scientists have discovered that the brain possesses stem cells that continue to make new nerve cells after the beginnings of life, shattering the myth that all the cells one's brain will ever have must be present at birth.
Stem cells can divide into different types of cells. Although there are many different types of stem cells, the ones that interest scientists trying to cure childhood neurological disorders are neural stem cells. These amazing cells have a remarkable capability to become new, healthy neurons and glia that can be used to replace diseased ones and perhaps treat the underlying causes of pediatric neurological disorders, not just the symptoms.
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Neural stem cells can be derived from both adult and embryonic sources, replicated in cultures to create enough tissue for transplant, and then injected into damaged regions of the brain to create new neurons and glia to potentially restore function to children disabled by neurological disorders.
Not only do injected stem cells produce new neurons and glia, but they also enhance the brain's self-repair process by communicating with their host. Scientists are studying how stem cells "talk" to each other and their environment through signaling molecules and proteins. Deciphering this language will help them learn exactly how to best harness the brain's capacity for self-healing in developing treatments for children with neurological disorders.
Stem cell-based therapies will be tailored to the needs of the specific neurological disorder. For example, the exact types of stem cells used, their need for genetic modification, the location(s) where they are to be injected, and other specifics
will vary for different conditions. The basic therapeutic strategy, however,
will be similar.