World first: Monash team grows nerve cells
By MARY-ANNE TOY
Tuesday 4 April 2000
Australian scientists have become the first
in the world to grow human nerve cells from
embryonic stem cells - opening the way for
new treatments for degenerative diseases
such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.
The breakthrough was made by Professor
Alan Trounson and Dr Martin Pera of the
Monash Institute of Reproduction and
Development at Monash University, with
colleagues from Israel and Singapore.
The human nerve cells created by the Monash group could
also be used for the repair of damaged nerve tissue and brings
the possibility of growing new tissue and even organs for
Embryonic (ES) stem cells are cells derived from the early
embryo, which have the potential to become any cell in the
body. Until now, scientists have been unable to work out how
to control the stem cells and direct them to grow into specific
The Monash group are the first to show it is possible to get
human embryonic stem cells to turn into specific types of body
cells in the laboratory in a controllable way.
"We've been able to get them to form pure nerve cells out of
the embryonic stem cell line - no one has done that before,"
Professor Trounson said.
"And if these nerve cells produce dopamine they could be used
to treat Parkinson's disease, for example, or in any nerve
tissue repair where there has been an injury.
"The implications are just massive. If we can do this then the
next thing may be to grow blood cells to treat blood diseases or
The breakthrough is the cover story of the international
journal Nature Biotechnology this week. [etc]
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