T he Journal of Clinical Investigation reports that research into human astrocytes may help those suffering from neurodegenerative conditions including ALS, as well as with spinal cord injuries. These discoveries, originating in research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reveals that these cells may be more important to spinal regeneration than ever before.
Astrocytes cells are star-shaped, and appear all over the body, including the brain and the spinal cord. Previously, these cells had been overlooked for more than 30 years, with little research being conducted into their uses and purpose. Since the latest research, however, their importance has become clear, and particularly in the arena of neurodegenerative diseases.
Astrocytes and health
The strongest connection between astrocytes and health is when the cells are deficient or available in low numbers such as in Huntington’s disease, Alexander disease and Rett syndrome, and as research now shows, in connection to spinal cord damage. Evidence in animals shows that these cells are important for the nervous system. Two experiments were carried out on mice, one using normal astrocytes, and the other obtained from patients suffering from ALS. In the former, the mice functioned as normal but in the latter the mice suffered disrupted motor functions, mirroring ALS symptoms. The ALS astrocytes appeared to affect leg movement and neuron degeneration, which demonstrates that there is a close link between human astrocytes cells and these degenerative diseases.
ALS and stem cells
The revelations about astrocytes cells could reveal new treatments for spinal cord degeneration. Stem cells which can be used to create normal astrocytes may be used to replace the damaged cells in patients suffering from spinal cord degeneration, and there may also be increased treatments which focus on improving the production of new astrocytes cells by the body, or which replicate standard human cells and use them as replacements for the damaged ones in ALS patients. This new research offers hope to patients after many years of basic medical assistance which has not been able to prevent spinal cord degeneration.