The Central Nervous System, It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Here at the Neural Stem Cell institute (NSCI), we’ve made it our mission to help create therapies that will help in repairing damage to the central nervous system. So why is the nervous system so important? Why study it?

The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain, spinal cord, and retina as well as a complex system of nerves. Not only is the CNS the first system in the body to develop, it also reigns supreme and controls almost every action within the body. Whether it is moving your fingers to press keys on a keyboard (like I am currently demonstrating), having a conversation with a friend, or commanding the cells required for growth, maintenance and healing of an injury, the CNS is the command center.

We have chosen to devote our time to studying the CNS because it is incapable of healing itself in the way other tissues do, such as the skin. Because of this, damage or disease in the CNS is often permanant. We believe that neural stem cells (NSCs) hold great promise for regenerative therapy for damaged CNS. The ability to regenerate neurons and the supporting glial cells, such as oligodendrocytes, has applications in helping many diseases and injuries of the CNS. Ever since our scientists at NSCI discovered CNS stem cells in 1989, we have aimed to harness the regenerative power of neural stem cells to ease suffering caused by injury and disease. The implications of this research are far-reaching.

Much of our research focuses on the NSCs that lie dormant in our nervous systems. These are stem cells that were active long ago when you were still a twinkle in your mother’s eye. These dormant cells can be activated to mediate repair and regeneration in lower animals that do have the capability to regenerate brain tissue or even re-grow an eye. Equivalent cells are present in humans, but they just need a swift kick to get them going again. The NSCs that accomplish such remarkable repair are inhibited in higher animals like humans or mice but can be activated by injecting stem cell growth factors. We have found that implanting growth factor releasing microbeads (adding a few extra ingredients to the pot so to speak) helps improve the ability of spinal cord injured mice to walk. The microbeads help to activate the resident dormant stem cells and aid repair of the injury. How cool is that! We are working to apply such skills to a variety of injuries and diseases that damage our CNS.

NSCI scientists have also discovered a new kind of NSCs in the adult retinal pigment epithelium (RPESC), which can be used for autologous transplantation (cells are removed and then placed back into the same individual after some tweaking). These cells are likely to be beneficial for Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa, and even for nervous system disorders outside the retina. These RPESC are also used to develop disease models for drug discovery.

Just look at all the interesting things the CNS can do. We only need to learn how to harness its power more fully. With continued hard work and creativity we believe we can help the human CNS repair itself!

This post comes to you from Rachel Wurster. Research technician by day, blogger and tweeter extraordinaire by midday.

Comment Corner

Are you or anyone you know affected by disease or damage of the CNS? Tell us your story.

What’s your favorite thing about the CNS?

Erzsi’s Goodbye Luncheon

Our dear friend and colleague Erzsebet Kokovay will be leaving us this week to head her own lab at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio. She has even received their prestigious Rising Star grant which provides extra start up money for promising new investigators. Even though we are sad to see Erzsi go, we are truly happy for this exciting new phase of her career. We wish her the very best. I’ve included some photos of her farewell party below.

Everyone sitting down for a NSCI family meal in honor of Erzsi.

Erzsi (second from the right) watches as someone picks a new gift from the Yankee Swap Table

David opens up his gift from the Yankee Swap. The coveted iPod nano.

5 Ways You Can Help “Culture” Stem Cell Research

“How can you help?” Well I’m so glad you asked. Here are a few ways you can lend a hand. No pressure but there will be a test at the end.

1.  Make a Donation

Donations are always the easiest and most expedient way to get the ball rolling in any lab. Many people may not realize this but science is expensive. Funding from NIH and other organizations are getting more and more competitive meaning the chances of getting these highly sought after grants is shrinking. Donations accelerate the process of getting our discoveries here in the lab to new therapies for patients. Donations are important to any non-profit organization including ours.

To make a donation to the neural stem cell institute, please click here.

2.  Tell A Friend

It is understandable that many people don’t have money to give. This doesn’t mean you can’t help and be part of something wonderful. By just helping your friends understand the role of stem cells and the potential they have for medical applications can increase support for our cause in this emerging area of biomedicine. Just simply slip it into conversation at your next dinner party and you will be well on your way. Instead of commenting on how lovely the weather is, simply comment on the lovely stem cell research that is going on in the world. Easy as pie.

3.  Stay Informed

How will I be the most interesting person at my next fancy dinner party? Brush up on current stem cell research that’s how. Stem cell research is one of the fastest growing fields of scientific study, and it is leading to exciting new therapeutic options in the area of regenerative research. There has to be some information out there on this right? Conveniently enough there is. Our website (not a plug I swear, well maybe a little one) has tons of information about the projects we are currently working on and the science behind it. The International Society for Stem Cell Research ( also has some really great resources if you want to expand your knowledge on stem cell research. You don’t have to get your PhD in stem cell research, but if you know the basics you are golden. So the next time you are surfing the web check them out. Beware though; some sites on stem cell research are less fact and more fiction.

4.  Volunteer

Handy with a pipette? Ask to volunteer at a local lab and get some hands on experience at the same time. Labs can always use another set of hands and an extra brain or two. It is also a great way to see how a lab environment truly is and if it is a place you can see yourself working at in the future. Another bonus, colleges and universities eat this stuff up when you’re applying. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

5.  Give a Scientist a Pat on the Back

Though we toil away for the good of humanity, a “thank you” or a “keep up the good work” goes a long way. It’s nice to know that you are doing a job well done and that your hard work is truly appreciated. Even a high-five means a lot and makes us work that much harder. Just make sure we take our gloves off first.

Alright are you ready for that quiz? Just checking. By just reading these suggestions on how to help you are already starting to make a difference. No matter which way you decided to aid in our ongoing endeavors, know that it is greatly appreciated. Isn’t it nice to be part of something so fantastic? Believe me, it does.

Comment Corner

If you are currently helping a scientist in need post your story below. Do you have any more suggestions on how people can help?  How do you plan to help in the future? I can’t wait to hear from all of you!

This post comes to you from Rachel Wurster. Research technician by day, blogger and tweeter extraordinaire by midday.

Hello world!

Welcome! This is the first of many posts from us here at the Neural Stem Cell Institute. The purpose of this blog is to not only educate but form a dialogue about ongoing work in the field of Neural Stem Cell Research. I would like to welcome you to comment on anything we post about and let us know if you have any questions you would like to ask. Also, what would you like to see here on this blog? In up coming posts we hope to not only give you updates on our ongoing work but also tell you about the wonderful researchers and staff we have here at our institute. That’s all for now and hope to here from you all soon!