Brain injury is a devastating condition associated with trauma, multiple sclerosis or stroke. Successful therapy must overcome the associated loss of neurons and supporting glial cells as well as complex intercellular connections. This daunting challenge can be addressed using stem cells that originated in the brain and have the capacity to regenerate and repair this delicate tissue. Brain stem cells remain dormant after injury in higher species like mice or man but do mediate regeneration and repair in lower animals. If this inhibition of stem cells can be overcome then brain regeneration and repair can become a reality.
New stem cells injected into injured brain overcome inhibition to reproduce and integrate into injured brain tissues. Embryonic stem cells can proliferate too much, however, and sometimes make the wrong progeny while more differentiated neural stem cells generate appropriate progeny but may not proliferate or integrate sufficiently for meaningful recovery. The remaining challenge is to find the stem cells most suited to a particular injury. The ideal stem cell is the type already resident in the brain. These dormant brain stem cells can be activated by implantation of biodegradable beads that release stem cell activating factor. Activation of endogenous stem cells has the power to repair spinal cord injuries that mirror brain injury. This new therapeutic approach to nervous system repair, Stembeads, is a novel bioengineered method to reawaken dormant stem cells and direct natural regeneration and repair of damaged brain. The defined steps needed to translate this exciting finding from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside are within reach.