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Stem cells offer "new approach" to epilepsy surgery

8 June, 2004

Embryonic stem cells can contribute to the regeneration of brain tissue, according to new research given to the recently-held 6th European Congress on Epileptology in Vienna.

The study, presented by Professor Oliver Brüstle from the Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology at the University of Bonn,
suggests there is clear evidence for successful integration into host
brain tissue of neuronal precursor cells that were derived from
embryonic stem cells). The researchers hope that further studies may
lead to applications that will support the limited regenerative
capacity of the central nervous system by transplantating stem
cell-derived cells - described as a possibility with great potential in
epileptic surgery because currently the best therapy option for up to
20 per cent of patients is the removal of uncontrolled cells that cause
seizures.

Professor Brüstle told the Congress:

"Currently
we are at an early stage of our research. A lot more basic science is
necessary before we can fathom the potential for clinical applications
of embryonic stem cells. However, together with Heinz Beck and his team
at the Clinic for Epileptology in Bonn, we were able to show in animal
models that following transplantation, embryonic stem cell-derived
neurons connect well with neurons of the host tissue. They migrate into
several regions of the brain and not only become electrically active
and fire action potentials there, but also receive and process signals
from the host's brain."

The
researchers say that in addition to replacing surgically removed, or
otherwise lost, cells, the transplantation of stem cells into the brain
also offers the possibility to introduce compounds that repress
seizures in the brains of people with epilepsy.