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Embryonic Stem Cells Could Rewire The Brain

I was rather excited to learn that researchers at UC San Francisco have figured out a way to induce a new period of “plasticity” – a state in which neural circuitry is receptive to change – in the visual cortices of mice, a breakthrough that could lead to treatments for brain circuits damaged by developmental problems or traumas. You see, after our brain’s neural wiring is put into place, at a very young age, altering or rebuilding it becomes extremely challenging. More or less, once the map is in place, it’s almost impossible to change. Anything that is done incorrectly or gets damaged at some point is pretty much permanent.
Anyway, the UC San Francisco team took a group of mice during their normal period of visual cortex plasticity (at about four weeks of age) and deprived one eye of each mouse of visual signals, allowing one eye to develop fully while the other eye did not. They then transplanted some immature embryonic neurons into the animals’ visual cortexes. As the embryonic cells matured over time, they dispersed throughout the cortex, grew into GABA-producing inhibitory neurons and began to make synaptic connections, catalyzing a second period of plasticity that allowed the deprived eye to recalibrate it’s circuitry properly.
The study suggest that it may be possible in the future to transplant immature neurons into the visual cortex and other parts of the brain damaged by stroke, trauma, developmental disorders, psychiatric illness, or aging, allowing the brain a second chance to wire itself like new. Holy crap. They may have stumbled onto a way to eventually repair brain damage. Just imagine the potential.
Of course, the mention of this already has certain people up in arms. You know the ones. You mention the word “embryonic” and they’re scrambling to “protect our babies”. I wish these people would grow up. The same people who are up in arms over any kind of use of embryonic cells couldn’t give a shit about those embryos once they’ve become people. Once you’re born, you’re own your own. Whether you survive or not is between you and God. We have the same situation now as we always have, in that people whose Spirit In The Sky has laid down the 3 Great Laws about which end of the egg should be opened (that’s a Dr. Seuss reference, if you missed it), are standing in the way of progress… much in the same way they stood in the way of Newton and¬†Galileo and Copernicus. Without these people standing the way, we have the potential to not only cure cancer and dozens of other incurable diseases, but to literally repair damaged brains. It’s time we put aside the supernatural mumbo-jumbo and engaged ourselves in the real world.

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Dan Morgan
13 years ago

I love reading about stem cells, but I am surprised so many people don’t know where to get stem cell therapy. Its worth investigating to read some articles from
Thanks, Dan

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