Scientists have identified a new way to treat disorders of the brain using stem cells. Their proposed technique is particularly promising because of the ability of stem cells to cross the blood brain barrier, a barrier that has posed challenges for other drug candidates.
A recent review published by Rutgers University’s Pranela Rameshwar and colleagues supports the notion that stem cells, and particularly, mesenchymal stem cells (or MSCs) may be great drug delivery vehicles for people with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and certain forms of brain cancer. Therapies that are currently used suffer a number of limitations that could potentially be overcome by stem cell delivery of drugs.
Not only are several drug substances unable to cross the blood brain barrier, but drugs can also have unwanted toxic effects because it is difficult to specifically target their action to the areas where they are needed. Stem cells can help ensure that drugs are delivered specifically to the brain, and perhaps even to the specific parts of the brain where the drug could be helpful. The use of stem cells could also circumvent the need to perform highly invasive surgical procedures to address neurological diseases.
Though different types of stem cells could theoretically be used to deliver therapies to the brain, mesenchymal stem cells appear highly valuable because research has shown them to be safe. Unlike other forms of stem cells, MSCs do not tend to form tumors and also preferentially migrate to parts of the brain in need of new tissue. An additional advantage of MSCs is that their use is not subject to the same ethical scrutiny as some other stem cells. Now that the therapeutic potential for MSCs has been identified, relevant research efforts will undoubtedly increase, with the hopes of translating this promising therapeutic approach into practice.
Aleynik, A., Gernavage, K. M., Mourad, Y., Sherman, L. S., Liu, K., Gubenko, Y. A., & Rameshwar, P. (2014). Stem cell delivery of therapies for brain disorders. Clin Transl Med, 3, 24. doi: 10.1186/2001-1326-3-24