Research on treating neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and spinal muscular atrophy has long been hindered by the difficulty of producing the different kinds of motor neurons needed to model them. Now, researchers at UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research have found a new way to create key motor neurons for use in research on such diseases and on spinal cord injuries.
The new method uses a protein called Foxp1 to program embryonic stem cells to become a specific type of motor neuron. Researchers led by Bennett Novitch, a UCLA associate professor of neurobiology, found that the approach was more than five times more effective than previous efforts. Their study was published online by the journal Nature Communications.
“Motor neuron diseases are complex and have no cure; currently we can only provide limited treatments that help patients with some symptoms,” said Novitch, the study’s senior author. “The results from our study present an effective approach for generating specific motor neuron populations from embryonic stem cells to enhance our understanding of motor neuron development and disease.”