Noninvasive Method Tracks Stem Cells in the Brain

A new technique using “quantum dots” produced through nanotechnology is a promising approach to monitoring the effects of stem cell therapies for stroke and other types of brain damage, reports the April issue of Neurosurgery, official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The researchers report the successful use of “near-infrared fluorescence labeling” to track the behavior of injected stem cells in brain-injured rats. “The results open up new opportunities to develop non-invasive near-infrared fluorescence imaging…to track bone marrow stem cells transplanted into the human brain,” write Dr. Taku Sugiyama and colleagues of Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine, Sapporo, Japan.

Quantum Dots Allow Monitoring of Stem Cell Therapy for Brain Injury
The researchers used bone marrow stem cells to treat induced brain injuries, similar to stroke, in rats. Before injection, the stem cells were labeled with “quantum dots”—a biocompatible, fluorescent semiconductor created using nanotechnology.

Other fluorescence techniques used to label stem cells have an important limitation—their relatively short wavelengths don’t easily penetrate through bone and skin. The quantum dots emit near-infrared light, with much longer wavelengths that can easily penetrate tissues. This allowed the researchers to monitor the behavior of stem cells within the brain after transplantation using a computer-assisted 3-D imaging system.

Using this technology, Dr. Sugiyama and colleagues were able to detect near-infrared fluorescence from the stem cells as they moved to and incorporated themselves into the area around the injured area of the brain. Reflecting the stem cells’ behavior, the fluorescence increased gradually, peaking at four weeks after injection.

The fluorescence remained detectable for up to eight weeks. The findings were confirmed by direct examination of the brains.

Stem cell transplantation is a potentially valuable treatment for stroke and other central nervous system disorders. The use of stem cells developed from the patient’s own bone marrow is a particularly promising approach. For example, a study in the March issue of Neurosurgery reported that bone marrow stem cell transplantation was a “logistically feasible and safe” approach to treatment of severe traumatic brain injury in children.

However, some type of imaging system is needed to monitor the activity of stem cells as they travel to the injured area and develop into new brain cells. “Such techniques would be crucial to validate the therapeutic benefits of bone marrow stem cell transplantation for central nervous system disorders,” Dr. Sugiyama and coauthors write.

Near-infrared fluorescence labeling using quantum dots appears to provide a noninvasive technique for monitoring the effects of stem cell transplantation in the rat brain. Further research will be needed to see if similar techniques can be developed and used in humans. If so, this technology would be an important part of experimental stem cell therapies to promote functional recovery of the brain after stroke or other types of injury.

About Neurosurgery
Neurosurgery, the Official Journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, is your most complete window to the contemporary field of neurosurgery. Members of the Congress and non-member subscribers receive 3,000 pages per year packed with the very latest science, technology, and medicine, not to mention full-text online access to the world’s most complete, up-to-the-minute neurosurgery resource. For professionals aware of the rapid pace of developments in the field, Neurosurgery is nothing short of indispensable.

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