Stem cells are unique in that they have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body, including brain cells, but they also retain the ability to produce more stem cells, a process termed self-renewal. There are multiple types of stem cell, such as embryonic stem (ES) cells, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and adult or somatic stem cells. While various stem cells can share similar properties there are differences as well. For example, ES cells are able to differentiate into any type of cell, whereas adult stem cells are more restricted in their potential. The promise of all stem cells for use in future therapies is exciting, but significant technical hurdles remain that will only be overcome through years of intensive research. NINDS supports a diverse array of research on almost all stem cells, from studies of the basic biology of stem cells in the developing and adult mammalian brain to studies focusing on nervous system disorders such as ALS or spinal cord injury. For example, investigators are looking at how ES cells can be used to derive dopamine-producing neurons that might alleviate symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease or how somatic stem cells can generate myelin producing oligodendrocytes for remyelination following acute and chronic brain injury. Although there is much promise for using stem cells to treat neurological diseases in humans, there is much work to be done before stem cell-based therapies are ready for the clinic.
The NINDS also supports a repository that offers human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines for research on neurological disorders. A list of available cell lines can be found here: NINDS Human iPSC and Data Repository
NINDS Stem Cell Research on Campus
The Intramural Research Program of NINDS is one of the largest neuroscience research centers in the world. Investigators in the NINDS intramural program conduct research in the basic, translational, and clinical neurosciences. Their specific interests cover a broad range of neuroscience research including stem cell biology. Listings of NINDS intramural researchers by laboratory affiliation and research areas are available online.
NIH Regenerative Medicine Program (RMP)
The goal of the Regenerative Medicine Program (RMP) is to serve as a national resource for stem cell science to accelerate the development of new medical applications and cell-based therapies. As part of this program, NIH established a new Stem Cell Translation Laboratory (SCTL) within the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) with the goal of creating new stem cell translational methods, via a more centralized effort, that can be adopted by the scientific community.