Researchers from the University of South Florida have shown that adult stem cells from human umbilical cord blood can enhance the survival and maturation of brain neurons from both young and old laboratory animals. The research may have implications for degenerative diseases of the brain, as well as for brain trauma.

The study was done in the laboratory using neurons taken from a specific area of the brain--the hippocampus. According to Dr. Alison Willing, senior author of the study:

"As we age, cognitive function tends to decline. Changes in cognitive function are accompanied by changes in the hippocampus, an area of the brain where long term memory, as well as other functions, are located, an area of the brain among those first to suffer the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease."

The aging population is more susceptible to the stresses and diseases that affect this part of the brain. Interestingly, the positive effects of adult stem cells from cord blood were more pronounced with neurons from older animals. In addition, not only were the cord blood stem cells able to protect and stimulate growth of the neurons, they also stimulated growth of cells known as dendrites, the branching neurons which act as signaling nerve communication channels.

The results of the study have just been published in the journal Aging and Disease.