Science & Math Colloquium
October 22, 2013 | 11:45 AM to 12:35 PM
Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Biology, St. Bonaventure University
The Stem Cell Prescription
In 1998, shortly after stem cells were first isolated from a human embryo and grown in a laboratory, scientists around the world began speculating on the awesome potential of stem cells. Yet, almost fifteen years later The Atlantic magazine proclaimed 2013 “The Year of the Stem Cell.” After a decade of promises, are we any closer to understanding stem cells or harnessing their therapeutic potential? What must scientists do before the stem cell prescription is a reality?
Nearly six years ago I identified these questions as a personal call to arms. Because of my training as a neurophysiologist, I was drawn specifically to adult neural stems (NSCs), which, at the time, were avant-garde. Adult neural stem cells are required for neurogenesis: the manufacturing, maturation, and functional integration of neurons into the postnatal nervous system (CNS). Neurogenesis and requisite NSCs exist within two well-defined neurogenic niches of the brain: the subventricular zone (SVZ), which lines the lateral ventricles; and the subgranular zone (SGZ), which borders and supplies the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus with new granule cells.
To advance the therapeutic potential of adult NSCs, my research team intends to determine whether adult born neurons, the product of NSCs, have the potential to ameliorate the cognitive impairment typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). This endpoint seems probable, because adult hippocampal neurogenesis has been positively correlated with learning and memory. However, to conclusively determine whether enhanced neurogenesis directly supports learning and memory, my lab is using genetic engineering and retroviral transduction machinery to electrically silence newborn hippocampal neurons that have successfully integrated into the mouse hippocampus. By isolating newborn neurons in this highly novel way, we hope to demonstrate their import to the CNS and more clearly define their therapeutic potential.