We just finished talking about the nervous system. We discussed glial cells, the cells neurons depend on for support function. You may remember Schwann cells are a specific type of glial cell which seems to function for neuron maintenance and also the generation of myelin for the myelin sheath on axons.
We also are working on developing your critical thinking in reading secondary sources, and this article offers a great example of how you have to go to the source of the research to find out the real story.
The BBC is erroneously (ARGH don’t get me started on bad science reporting!) reporting on research in promoting the growth of nerve cells, using stem cells extracted from fat cells. Here’s a quote from the article:
BBC NEWS | Health | New nerves grown from fat cells:
The Manchester technique uses stem cells – immature cells which the body naturally uses to create different tissue types.
So far, the team has extracted stem cells from fat tissue taken from rats, and managed to coax the cells into becoming neurons – nerve cells – in the laboratory.
The last sentence is a broad overstatement, and a misrepresentation of the research. The stem cells are NOT being coaxed to become neurons! They are promoting the development of specific parts of neurons, when co-cultured with neuron cells. That is a long way from the BBC’s claim of “becoming neurons.”
Back in the world of reality, the researchers extracted stem cells from rat fat tissue, which then formed cells that seem to function like Schwann cells. These cells were then co-cultured with the neuron cells, and the researchers found an increase in the growth of neurites, which are immature cells that form either axons or dendrites in neurons. The implication of the research seems to be that if we can create these Schwann-like cells, they may be used to help damaged nerves in the peripheral nervous system repair and regenerate.
The research is preliminary, and has only been shown to work in rats, but humans are the next population to be studied.
If you’re a PCC student, try using this link to get access to the full text of the article (although it’s pretty technical). If you’re not a PCC student, here’s the link in ScienceDirect
Kingham, P. J., Kalbermatten, D. F., Mahay, D., Armstrong, S. J., Wiberg, M., & Terenghi, G. (2007). Adipose-derived stem cells differentiate into a Schwann cell phenotype and promote neurite outgrowth in vitro. Experimental Neurology, 207(2), 267-274.
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