Current cell therapy strategies for repairing the central nervous system


  • Féron F.

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One of the chief contemporary goals of neurologists and neuroscientists is to find a way to overcome the debilitating effects of brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative diseases. Since very few molecules have been found to be efficient in curing the patients and even halting the progression of the symptoms, cell therapy is now seen as an attractive alternative. Two therapeutic strategies are currently under investigation: i) the "substitution" strategy, based on grafts of cells capable of differentiating in the appropriate cells and restoring lost functions and ii) the "neuroprotective" or "conservative" strategy aiming to increase the resistance of spared cells to the toxicity of their environment and to reinforce the body's own mechanisms of healing. Twenty years ago, foetal neuroblasts were the first cells to be transplanted in the brains of patients with Parkinson's or Huntington disease. A phase II clinical trial is presently conducted in France for the latter disorder. However, the numerous ethical and technical issues raised by the use of embryonic and foetal cells have directed the focus of clinicians and researchers towards substitute cell types. In this review, we summarise the main findings of the most recent basic studies and clinical trials based on: i) the grafting of surrogate adult cells such as bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells and olfactory ensheathing cells; ii) the potential therapeutic applications of neuropoiesis - the persistent neurogenesis in the brain - as a source for tissue engraftment and as self-repair by a person's own indigenous population of pluripotent cells and iii) immune-based therapy (autologous activated macrophages and T cell vaccination) as well as administration of immunomodulatory molecules. Unexpectedly, it has been found that undifferentiated adult stem cells can display immune-like functions when they home in on an inflamed brain area while immune cells and immunosuppressors can improve functional and morphological recovery when administered within the appropriate time-window. On the one hand, outcomes from substitution therapy trials are encouraging. They pave the way for an enlarged use of various adult cell types for various neurological disorders. On the other hand, clinical benefits of the neuroprotective therapy, still under close scrutiny, look rather promising. It is likely that, in a close future, the two strategies will be combined in order to efficiently repair the pathological, the damaged or the senescent brain.

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