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Brain Research – The Next Frontier?

We often find exciting stories in the headlines about advances that might benefit those of us living with MS – one such example is Lisa Emrich’s recent blog on a new approach to stem cell therapy that approached the problem from a different angle than previous studies.  That research is exciting because it is now approved for a Clinical trial.

There are also those stories that remain just under the radar, that don’t get the headline grabbing attention, but may still be important for us in the years ahead.  These are the new discoveries in laboratories that aren’t yet ready for a clinical trial and need more research, but are nonetheless exciting.

This week has been a great example of the stories that pass quietly without much fanfare and I want to share the three that caught my attention.  I often joke about needing a brain or more brain power, and that may be closer than I thought, with the assistance of some brilliant researchers.

The holy grail of MS research would be to find the cause and prevention/cure for this miserable disease, but second place would go to finding a way to mend those of us who are already in its throes.  We know that to get better there needs to be repair for our damaged myelin, but the adult human’s body does a pretty poor job of producing more glial cells that can convert to myelin to coat our neurons. Glial and Neurons are the two main types of cells in our brain.   Researchers at the University of California Davis announced they have found a way to stimulate stem cells to produce myelin1.  The team at UC Davis was able to bioengineer myelin-producing cells and tested them in mice. Mice do not have naturally occurring myelin, so all the myelin they found in them is known to have come for the stem cell injections they were given. It is really early in this research, but to me this is very exciting.

How often have you wished like the scarecrow in Oz  – if I only had a brain?  I know at times that is my wish, to have a fully engaged and complete brain to power me through the day.  Scientists at the Institute of Molecular biotechnology  (IMBA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences announced that they have  created 3-dimensional  (3-D) brain cells in their lab.  It’s pretty incredible how these scientists construct a type of scaffolding using 3D printing technology and then add to it fragments of tissue made from human stem cells to create brain tissue.  I understand that for some time there have been 2-Dimnsional (2D) cells available for researchers, but this is the first reported creation of 3D cells.  In utero the human brain starts as a small speck and evolves into a functioning marvel that still has scientists boggled as to how it really works.  This research is able to create this same brain in its infancy, and after 20-30 days of time in a spinning bioreactor and being nurtured, the scientists are able to see distinct areas of the brain developing, with a central core around a cavity that contained fluid.

Please don’t get alarmed at the idea of a brain being grown in a lab- this is nothing quite like creating Frankenstein.  Instead, these mini-brains as they are being called, are being used understand the brain disorder of microcephally, a disorder that causes the brain to be smaller than normal. The mini-brain is not able to grow larger, because it doesn’t get blood or oxygen from a circulatory system as in our body.  These laboratory grown mini-brains1will be also used to study other brain disorders, including diseases of the neuronal system.   The mini brain will give researchers one more tool to study MS and other neurological disorders.

The final headline to share is more amazing than when Alexander Graham Bell said ‘Watson, come here – I want you,’  through the first use of a  telephone. We’ve all heard the adage – two heads are better than one.  Would the same be true for two brains?  How would you like to influence someone else’s brain to control their movements?  What would you think if someone else could connect with your brain and the two of you achieve a brain driven activity that perhaps you couldn’t do on your own?

Researchers/professors at the University of Washington1 demonstrated their ability to think their way into the other’s brain to control their movement on a video game.  The experiment was very basic, only had communications going one way, and they are the first to admit the equipment we would have to wear would not be realistic in the real world. But who knows?  Look at Google Glass and what they have engineered and how portable that technology is now.

In this experiment, one researcher in a location across their campus from the other one, was given instructions to give to the partner.  When he thought of a movement to make with the video game controller, the second researcher’s brain heard the signal and made the move.  We may not see any value in getting help to play a game, but imagine that you can’t  speak but could tell a partner your thoughts  through this method, I think we could agree it could be invaluable.

These are the three stories that grabbed my attention and imagination this week,  and they all leave me hoping that the brain power of these researchers will result in better brain health for the rest of us.

Wishing you well,


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

1. UC Davis team "spikes" stem cells to generate myelin. Available at: 2. Young, Susan. Researchers Grow 3-D Human Brain Tissues. Available at: 3. Ferro, S. Watch A Professor Control Another Professor's Mind From Across Campus. Available at:


  • Bill B.
    5 years ago

    An extremely interesting article I just saw in the latest (Aug/Sept.2014) issue of Neurology Now discussed some great early results in using statin drugs (specifically Zocor) in dramatically reducing brain atrophy (by more than 40%) in patients with Secondary Progressive MS(SPMS). As a man who has been dealing with MS since 1982, it was very encouraging to see research in something other than RRMS! Of course, the article had the usual caveats.(Much more research is needed, it doesn’t actually diminish MS affects, etc.), but I thought this was preliminary GREAT news and could lead to more new treatments for progressive forms of MS.

  • Kathleen
    6 years ago

    Research is the way this dreadful disease will be ‘cured’. Unfortunately research funds are beginning to dry up. I have a daughter who is a medical researcher and funding for her research is getting harder and harder to obtain. My son, a recent graduate with a PhD in chemistry cannot get a job because big pharma is not hiring new researchers. Governmental funding is drying up. We must support organizations that are actively lobbying and raising funds for more research. We must put pressure on our congressmen to continue to fund medical research!
    Thank you for posting the information on these research programs, Laura, may they get the funding they need to continue their critical work.


  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    Sonya, I’m thinking I heard the majority of US funding for MS research comes from the various societies such as NMSS and the pharmaceutical companies and next to nothing from the government. Unfortunately that pattern is true for most other disease, too. be well, Laura

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    Kathleen, I’m sorry your children are caught in the problems of funding for research. I have read recently that we will be faced with a lack of scientists in the future because the money is just not there for young investigators. As our older scientists retire, we will be lacking younger ones ready to carry on. It’s all very sad that medical research doesn’t get the funding here that it should compared to the rest of the world. best, Laura

  • Sonya
    6 years ago

    As always, I appreciate & enjoy the information provided by Laura in her articles & posts.
    I must also extend a big thank-you to Kathleen for this information. How very sad that we as a country waste so much money, but the research programs that really need the money, seem to always fall by the wayside. I, as Darlene, have no intention of starting a war, it is simply my opinion.
    I will be in touch with my congressmen to urge the continuance of funding medical research.
    Thank-you all my friends for such informative information.

  • Dalene
    6 years ago

    I am curious as to where these cells come from. I am absolutely opposed to abortion and could never use cells taken from aborted children. I don’t intend to start a war here, just my personal preference!

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    Dalene, You are right about the personal preference and beliefs. Fortunately, much of the stem cell research being done these days involve autologous donation – which means it comes from the person also receiving it – and should pose no reason for the roadblocks that stem cell research has received in the past. There are some projects using embryonic stem cells but those are are getting rarer.

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