One of the key challenges with stem cell transplantation approaches aimed at repairing damaged motor neurons in ALS has been their functional integration into the neuromuscular circuitry. Recent work from Linda Greensmith’s group of University College London’s Institute of Neurology, UK and Ivo Lieberam’s lab of the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurology, King’s College, London, published on April 4 in Science, has demonstrated a successful approach to overcoming this hurdle by combining stem cell therapy with optogenetics. Murine embryonic stem-cell derived motor neurons were engineered to carry the light-sensitive ion channel channelrhodopsin-2, which allows for fine-tuning of neuronal firing using different intensities, duration and frequency of light pulses. The transplanted motor neurons not only reinnervated the hindlimb muscles following sciatic nerve injury, but also restored their function. The group is now laying the groundwork for human trials with their technique in the next five years. Click here to read more.
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