A new breakthrough could shed light on the fight against neurodegenerative diseases

Researchers at the Rosario Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology have shown that stem cells produce and release small pockets called exosomes that favor the regeneration of damaged neurons and the proliferation of new stem cells in cases of neurodegenerative diseases, strokes (CVA) and brain injuries. Although the work was done with mouse cells, its results contribute to the understanding of human physiology. From this discovery, new therapeutic strategies may emerge to treat different cases.

The death of neurons associated with the development of chronic diseases of the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, generates cognitive deterioration that constitutes the first cause of disability and the second cause of mortality in people over 65 years of age. In principle, this loss is irreversible because neurons are body cells that cannot multiply. When brain injuries, strokes or neurodegenerative diseases occur, nervous tissue has little ability to recover..

“While this is true, now we know they can be regenerated from stem cells”, indicates Claudia Banchio, researcher at the Conicet-dependent Institute and the National University of Rosario. This fact leads to the search for an effective way to increase neural stem cells in the brain. In this context, research demonstrates two fundamental effects of exosomes: on the one hand, they increase the proliferation of stem cells and, on the other hand, they lead them to differentiate specifically into new neurons.

Susana Delgadofellow at Conicet who completed his doctoral thesis with this research work, adds: “We also observed how exosomes restore normal functionality to damaged neurons that can result from brain injury”.

microscopic colors

The experiments that gave these results were carried out with stem cells isolated from the brain of mice at thirteen days of gestation. “We start with mouse embryos measuring about one centimeter and from there we obtain the stem cells to carry out the experiments. It is a job of great precision and many hours in the fluorescence microscope.”, details the intern.

With cell biology techniques, which combine the use of antibodies with molecules that emit fluorescence, it is possible to identify and make visible specific structures present in different types of cells, which otherwise would be translucent under the microscope.

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“In this way we were able to verify that the promoting effect of exosomes on the differentiation of stem cells generates neurons and not another type of nerve cell”, explains Delgado.

From basic science to business

For its novelty and creativity, the results of this research are protected by a provisional patent and are the foundation of a technology company called EXO+. “The fact that these extracellular vesicles increase the parameters associated with neuronal function that are generally affected by neurodegenerative diseases, raises the hypothesis that they could be used to regenerate neurons in the context of these pathologies”, anticipates Banchio, coordinator of the study.

When an innovative company emerges from the investigations carried out by Conicet specialists, the organization plays a preponderant role in its development. In the case of EXO+, it also has funding from the SF500 investment committee, an initiative by the company Bioceres and the province of Santa Fe that seeks to promote interactions between the scientific system and the productive sector.

Banchio highlights the importance of this technological link because “without basic science, something applied cannot be achieved. In Argentina, researchers are still not used to doing these startups, but The reality is that the science that develops them can come out of the doctoral theses that we direct, as was my case.”, emphasizes.

Doubts and perspectives

In the paths of research, the results always allow new questions. Today, Banchio and his team started a series of biochemical analyzes to determine which of the molecules that make up exosomes are involved in promoting neuronal regeneration and understand the molecular mechanisms by which they exert this effect on cells.

“We are interested in determining whether exosomes are functional in human neurons under in vitro conditions that reproduce the effects of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Banchio. In addition, they plan to test aged stem cells to see how they respond to exosomes from younger cells.

We have come this far because I am convinced that this basic science cannot be written only in books or scientific journals.but it has to reach society”, underlines the researcher.

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