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NZ Neuroscientists Discover Brain’s Repair Pathway


Neurological Foundation of New Zealand Press Release

New Zealand Neuroscientists Discover Brain’s Repair Pathway

New Zealand and Swedish neuroscientists have traced the pathway adult neural stem cells travel along to repair the human brain, opening up an exciting new field of research that could potentially lead to treatments for many brain disorders.

They have also overturned the long-held theory that although an adult stem cell pathway existed in other mammals, it was not found in humans.

The discovery is the culmination of eight years of collaborative study by teams led by Professor Richard Faull of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and Professor Peter Eriksson of the Arvid Carlsson Institute for Neuroscience, in Gothenburg, Sweden. Their findings are the cover story in the March 2nd issue of Science, considered the world’s top scientific journal.

The Foundation supports the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank, the source of human brain tissue for the study. New Zealand neuroscientist Dr Maurice Curtis, who is working with the Swedish team, is a recipient of the Foundation’s Philip Wrightson Fellowship, while Monica Kam, on the New Zealand team, was a Neurological Foundation Miller Scholar.

Neurological Foundation executive director Max Ritchie said the study was an outstanding accomplishment for the New Zealand neuroscientists.
“It is a prime example of what the Neurological Foundation is trying to achieve. With the ongoing fostering of emerging scientists, New Zealand is producing world-class research which will have far-reaching implications for the treatment of neurological disorders.”

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“Significantly it is the support of many individual New Zealanders who contribute to the Foundation and neurological research that have helped make these breakthroughs possible,” he said.

Using a variety of techniques, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and cell staining, the researchers traced the pathway from the subventricular zone deep within the brain (where neural stem cells are created) to the olfactory bulb in the limbic system. Although this pathway had been identified in other mammals, it had never been found in humans.

Knowing how the stem cells move through the human brain means researchers can now investigate ways to direct stem cells to damaged and diseased brain regions in order to repair them.



The Neurological Foundation of New Zealand is an independent body that raises money to support neurological research and education in New Zealand.
The Foundation receives no government assistance, and is almost totally funded by individual New Zealanders, with more than 95 per cent of contributions coming from donations and bequests.
The funds are capitalised and the interest is used to fund research grants and scholarships. This system provides ongoing support for career scientists and long-term research projects. All grant applications are internationally peer-reviewed to ensure only high-quality research is funded.
Last year, Foundation gave close to $1.5 million in grants to New Zealand researchers and students, covering the full neurological spectrum of disorders.

Stem cells

Stem cells in animals are primal undifferentiated cells that can divide and differentiate into other cell types. This means they can act as a repair system for the body by replenishing other cells as that have been destroyed or damaged.
Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro—in an in vitro fertilization clinic—and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman's body. The embryos from which human embryonic stem cells are derived are typically four or five days old and are a hollow microscopic ball of cells called the blastocyst.
An adult stem cell is an undifferentiated cell found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ, can renew itself, and can differentiate to yield the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ. The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found. Adult blood forming stem cells from bone marrow have been used in transplants for 30 years. Certain kinds of adult stem cells seem to have the ability to differentiate into a number of different cell types, given the right conditions.

Professor Richard L M Faull
University of Auckland
Professor of Anatomy at the Department of Anatomy with Radiology, Auckland School of Medicine

Professor Richard Faull is an acknowledged world-expert on the anatomy of the human brain. His research group has made invaluable contributions to our knowledge of the chemical anatomy of the basal ganglia, mechanisms of cell death and genetics of Huntington's disease. It has shown the potential of transplanted neurons to reverse the damage seen in animal models of neurological diseases.
His research was among the first to show that that the diseased adult human brain tries to repair itself by making new replacement brain cells (neurogenesis).
This discovery holds great promise for the development of new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntingdon's, stroke and epilepsy, which affect one in five New Zealanders.
Over the last decade, Professor Faull has established the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank at the University of Auckland to support international research on human neurodegenerative diseases
Professor Faull has also played a major role in promoting neuroscience research to the wider community through his patronage of the Alzheimer's Foundation and Huntington's Disease Association, and his support of patients, families, clinicians and community neurological organizations.
Professor Faull is also a popular lecturer, having taught human neuroanatomy, to students from undergraduate and postgraduate programmes since he joined the University in 1978. In 2001, he was awarded a Distinguished Teaching Award.
In November 2005, Professor Faull was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand Liley Medal for his outstanding contribution to neuroscience research.


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