Stem cells have the potential to revolutionize the study of neurodegenerative diseases and have therefore attracted intense interest and dynamic research. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) derived from patients are allowing CSCI researchers to generate more faithful models of familial forms of neurodegenerative diseases. Using insights gained from the study of signals and genetic pathways controlling specification of neural identity during embryonic development, CSCI scientists are directing the differentiation of iPSC into the classes of neuronal and glial cells implicated in each neurodegenerative disease. Thus, embryonic and patient-derived pluripotent stem cells can serve as renewable sources of nerve cells and glia to model and study pathological mechanisms underlying neural degeneration and injury. Importantly, stem cell-derived nerve cells can be also utilized to discover new neuroprotective drugs, and may eventually be employed for cell replacement therapies.
Much of the initial work at Columbia on stem cells and neurodegeneration was made possible by grants from Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Spitzer and from Project A.L.S.