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Innovative genetic, cellular techniques help identify multiple disease targets

Research released today highlights advances in the use of CRISPR-Cas9 and human induced pluripotent stem cell technologies to identify novel therapeutic targets for neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and addiction. The studies were presented at Neuroscience 2017, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

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Inner ear stem cells may someday restore hearing

Want to restore hearing by injecting stem cells into the inner ear? Well, that can be a double-edged sword. Inner ear stem cells can be converted to auditory neurons that could reverse deafness, but the process can also make those cells divide too quickly, posing a cancer risk, according to a new study.

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Plant substance inhibits cancer stem cells

The plant Ambrosia arborescens grows at a high elevation in large parts of South America, and is traditionally used as a medicinal plant. The researchers have isolated the sesquiterpene lactone damsin from the plant and studied its effect on cancer stem cells in three different breast cancer cell lines. They have also performed similar studies using what is known as an analogue called ambrosin — a substance similar to damsin, but produced synthetically. The results show that they both have an effect on cancer stem cells.

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Umbilical cord stem cells show promise as heart failure treatment

Intravenous stem cell infusion derived from umbilical cords appears to boost heart muscle function in patients with heart failure, according to a small study. In this first-of-its-kind study, patients had ‘significant’ improvement in their hearts’ ability to pump blood and experienced no adverse side effects related to the therapy. The results suggest IV-infused umbilical cord-derived stem cells are a promising avenue to treat heart failure.

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Cell model of the brain provides new knowledge on developmental disease

By reprogramming skin cells into nerve cells, researchers at Karolinska Institutet are creating cell models of the human brain. In a new study published in Molecular Psychiatry the researchers describe how cells from patients with the severe developmental disease lissencephaly differ from healthy cells. The method can provide vital new knowledge on difficult-to-study congenital diseases.

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Human skin cells transformed directly into motor neurons

Scientists have converted skin cells from healthy adults directly into motor neurons without going through a stem cell state. The technique makes it possible to study motor neurons of the human central nervous system in the lab. Unlike commonly studied mouse motor neurons, human motor neurons growing in the lab would be a new tool since researchers can’t take samples of these neurons from living people but can easily take skin samples.

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