The University of Rochester and Baylor University recently published a paper on a new approach to treating paralysis. They tested three sets of rats: untreated rats acted as controls, while the experimental groups consisted of those receiving transplants of undifferentiated embryonic stem cells or an embryonic derivative, named GDAs.
In order to prove beneficial, either of the two experimental groups had to show some improvement over the control group. The rats treated with undifferentiated embryonic stem cells showed no improvements, but those receiving GDA transplants demonstrated substantial recovery.
What are GDAs, you ask? Researchers start with embryonic stem cells and encourage them to differentiate into a cell type known as glial-restricted precursors, or GRPs. These GRPs are further differentiated into glial-restricted precursor derived astrocytes (GDAs), or GDAs.
Now, hopefully you'll be reading this and cringe at the use of embryonic stem cells (after all, I write this blog for people who oppose their use), but that's not really so important.
GRPs can be obtained from adult stem cells, too. Theoretically, these GDAs should be derivable from adult-derived GRPs.
The adult- and embryo-derived GDAs may share a common gene expression profile, or they may not. If they do, adult-derived GDAs should be as functional as their embryonic counterparts. If not, a differential analysis will show which genes are not common and allow researchers to pinpoint the genes that need to be expressed (or, conversely, repressed) to grant the adult-derived cells the power of the embryonic-derived GDAs.
More interestingly, if the effects are mediated by a select protein or two (remember: genes code for proteins), researchers can work on developing synthesized versions of these proteins and use these to mimic the effects, doing away with cells (adult or embryonic) entirely.
Isn't science wonderful?