Nerve stem cells treat gut disorder in mice

Therapy repairs intestines by connecting to nervous system

Transplants of nerve stem cells are usually reserved for repairing the brain or spinal cord, but a new study suggests such therapy may improve some intestinal disorders as well.

People with Hirschsprung disease have no nerves in parts of the large intestine, so muscles don’t contract to produce bowel movements. No effective therapies exist for the condition or for similar disorders known as enteric neuropathies.

To see if such nerve deficiencies can be repaired, Ryo Hotta of the University of Melbourne in Australia and colleagues transplanted nerve stem cells into the colons of mice. The cells wired into the nervous system and made contact with muscles, suggesting they could correct bowel movement problems.

The authors write online February 1 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that the cell therapy could someday replace diseased nerves in the colons of people with some enteric neuropathies.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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