Tracking key to healing the brain - stem cells - UQ researcher
22 Sep 2005Stem cells have long been described as the holy grail of
These amazing cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many
different cell types in the body and have to potential to revolutionise
Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically
divide without limit to replenish cells lost due to everyday wear and
tear, or following injury or disease.
Dr Rod Rietze, head of the Queensland Brain Institute's (QBI)
Laboratory for Neural Stem Cell Biology, is hoping those stem cells may
soon unlock the secrets to healing the brain as well.
First he has to find out what they actually do - something that has
been notoriously hard to do in the past. Dr Rietze is a finalist in the
UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards, to be announced tomorrow as a
highlight of UQ Research Week 2005. He is working on a project with a
novel approach to track neural stem cells in vivo.
"Identifying neural stem cells is like finding a needle in a haystack,"
Dr Rietze said.
"The tried and true method is to look for particular markers on the
outside of the cell, but this is a long and laborious process.
"What we are doing is looking at a distinguishing attribute of stem
cells, which is that they are relatively quiescent, or don't divide
much in relation to other cells.
"This will enable us to determine, for the first time, the precise
location and prevalence of neural stem cells in situ, which in turn
will allow us to determine more rapidly and accurately the role played
by stem cells in the mammalian brain and spinal cord under normal
conditions and following injuries."
He said at the moment, scientists rely on tissue culture methods to
guess what is happening inside the body, but this new approach will
mean they will be able to track the cells while they are working in the
body, a major leap forward.
"Defining the role and regulation of neural stem cells in the adult
brain will undoubtedly revolutionise our understanding of how the brain
responds to its environment," Dr Rietze said.
"This will allow us to ultimately harness its regenerative capacity to
bring about new and effective treatments for conditions caused by
trauma, disease, or even normal ageing."
Dr Rietze's interest in neural stem cells began while he was studying
zoology at the University of Calgary in Canada, and it was there he
"got fascinated with the complexity and elegance of the brain".
He continued in Calgary completing a Masters degree in the lab which
first reported the existence of adult neural stem cells, then worked
for two years at NeuroSpheres Ltd, a biotech company focused on using
stem cells to repair the brain, before coming to Australia to do his
PhD under Professor Perry Bartlett at the Walter and Eliza Hall
Institute in Melbourne.
Dr Rietze followed Professor Bartlett to UQ when the QBI was
established in 2003, where an innovative scientific environment has
since been created thanks to having a high concentration of experts who
specialise in different aspects of neuroscience research.
"It is great to have so many people working on different aspects of the
same problem, creating a unique synergy that is already producing
results," he said.
Contact: Dr Rod Rietze