In a perspective piece appearing in the journal Cell Stem Cell, URMC neurologist Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., lays out the current state of affairs with respect to stem cell medicine and how close we are to new therapies for neurological disorders.
The dawn of stem cell medicine some 25 years ago was greeted with great enthusiasm, particularly by scientists who study diseases in the central nervous system (CNS). Many of the diseases found in the brain and spinal cord are degenerative in nature; meaning that over time populations of cells are lost due to genetic factors, infection, or injury. Because stem cell medicine holds the potential to repair or replace damaged or destroyed cells, scientists have considered these diseases as promising candidates for new therapies.
However, as with other emerging fields of medicine, the race to cures has turned out to be more of marathon than a sprint. While scientists have become very adept at manipulating stem and progenitor cells and understanding the complex choreography of genetic and chemical signals that instruct these cells to divide, differentiate, and proliferate, researchers are still grappling with the challenges of how to integrate new cells into the complex network of connections that comprise the human brain.
Goldman, co-director of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine, takes a sweeping view of where we stand and which CNS diseases may or may not ultimately benefit from future stem cell-based therapies.