Development, Regeneration and Rehabilitation

Photo of a digram of neuronsThe field of restorative neuroscience has begun to appreciate that before we can develop new therapeutics for rebuilding a damaged brain, we must understand the cell and molecular interactions that occur during the original construction of our nervous system. During development of the brain and spinal cord, the expression of different genes and proteins contribute to an impressive plasticity in the formation of complex circuitries that bring about our magnificent repertoire of complex human behaviors.

Recent advances in the field of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine have disclosed the existence of a stem cell population that inhabits the adult brain for life, and that is amenable to manipulation for cell replacement and cell protection therapies for diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and a variety of neurological disorders where these potent cells offer the potential for neuroprotection or cell replacement of those cells lost to disease.

Research at the McKnight Brain Institute

Work done in the McKnight Brain Institute has elucidated several key cell and molecular cascades required for mobilizing the adult brain stem cell population for brain injury and disease; in fact, our investigators have pioneered the concept of reprogramming adult brain cells using particular growth-associated molecules and cell culture growth conditions to induce fully developed cells to reverse their aging clocks and become stem or progenitor cells. This new area of cell reprogramming has captured the interest of the field of regenerative medicine since it offers the possibility to use your own adult cells to diagnose and treat your own diseases that ravage cells in tissues and organs following injury of diseases – so-called “Personalized Medicine”.

Some of the same growth molecules that encourage this mobilization of adult brain stem cells may also be exploited to encourage new connections to be made in circuitries that have been compromised following traumatic injuries, stroke, and neurodegenerative disease. Once new cells and connections can contribute to circuitry reconstitution and the fostering of adult brain plasticity following brain injury or disease, the last step toward full restoration of normal behaviors is conjunctive rehabilitation protocols that help to recapitulate the developmental sequences in nervous system construction that generated our normal behavioral repertoire in the first place.

Scientists, clinicians, and therapists associated with the MBI-UF collaborate using both models of disease and patients to design powerful new protocols for rebuilding damaged brains and spinal cords, with the goal of eventually eliminating all neurological disease.

Photo by Christina R, Flickr.