Stem cell therapies may one day help millions of patients with serious and life altering diseases and injuries. But before stem cells and their derivatives can help a single patient, they must be tested for safety and efficacy. This will likely take an army of researchers years of studying cell signaling events, development and behavior and extensive functional testing in vitro and in animal models. The years of research needed to move these therapies to the clinic will require a highly knowledgeable and skilled scientific workforce. Some of these future scientists are getting their start here at the UGA Regenerative Bioscience Center and the Animal and Dairy Science Department as part of the West and Duberstein laboratories assisting in the development of neural stem cell therapies for stroke.
This year thirteen undergraduate researchers helped in studying how neural stem cell therapy could help improve motor function in stroked pigs. Loss of motor function is one of the major deficits that human stroke victims experience with many of them having problems doing day to day activities like walking or eating. These researchers in training started by characterizing the protein and gene expression of neural stem cells to ensure their quality. However they were not afraid to get “down and dirty,” working with the pigs checking temperatures, respiration rates and blood pressures with many of them honing their pre-veterinary medicine skills. As some of the students noted, the terabytes of data collected to determine changes in motor function due to neural stem cell treatment “do not analyze themselves.” Using cutting edge computational software, they assessed changes in the ability of animals to walk and move forward looking at characteristics such as stride length and maximum foot height. This study is ongoing and will take years to complete before neural stem cells can safely treat patients. However the nascent researchers being trained at UGA today will be ready to move these stem cell therapies into the clinics of tomorrow.