Kaylene Young believes she can persuade lazy stem cells in our brain to repair brain injuries and even treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
She and her colleagues at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania have found neural stem cells and related progenitor cells—which feed, protect and assist nerve cells—in the outer part of the brain most prone to damage, known as the cortex.
By understanding the behaviour and function of these cells, they one day hope to use them for treating nervous and brain disorders or damage.
“Our ultimate goal is to harness the regenerative capacity of these cells for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, mental health disorders and traumatic brain injury,” says Kaylene.
She says the progenitor cells are the only cells, apart from other neurons, with which nerve cells communicate electrically. That means there may be an electrical means of controlling them or modifying their behaviour to induce regeneration.
Kaylene Young was one of two recipients of the inaugural Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia in 2014.