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Stem cells and neurological disease
  1. R A Barker,
  2. M Jain,
  3. R J E Armstrong,
  4. M A Caldwell
  1. Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 2PY, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 R A Barker; 

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The therapeutic implications and application of stem cells for the nervous system

There has recently been a great deal of interest in stem cells and the nervous system, in terms of their potential for deciphering developmental issues as well as their therapeutic potential. In this editorial we will critically appraise the different types of stem cells, their therapeutic implications, and the applications to which they have been put, with the hope that the hype that surround these cells can be distinguished from the scientific reality.


Stem cells were originally defined in the haematological system, but more recently have been found in a multitude of other sites, including the brain. These cells all share the same properties of self-renewal and multipotentiality1 and various different types and therapeutic strategies have been defined with respect to the nervous system (Table 1, fig 1).

View this table:
Table 1

Essential properties of stem cells for use in clinical transplantation

The reasons for these cells receiving such attention for the treatment of neurological disorders relates to their:

  1. capacity to proliferate in culture with the prospect that large numbers of cells can be derived from a limited source;

  2. potential to be harvested from the patients themselves;

  3. ability to migrate and disseminate following implantation within the adult CNS;

  4. possible tropism for areas of pathology;

  5. ease of manipulation using viral and non-viral gene transfer methods;

  6. ability to better integrate into normal brain cytoarchitecture with the potential for physiologically regulated release of substances.

We will briefly discuss the different types of stem cells and how they have been applied to neurological disease, especially Parkinson’s disease, given the accepted view that this is the disease most amenable to cell replacement therapy.


Embryonic stem cells are derived from the inner cell mass of the embryonic blastula and are pluripotent with great proliferative potential, although with …

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