Crowd-funding campaign to accelerate clinical trials of brain-repair discovery

March 30, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Pushing promising new Penn State brain-repair research from the lab into clinical trials is the goal of a quick crowd-funding campaign that kicks off March 30.

The Penn State research team recently discovered a way to transform one type of brain cell -- called a glial cell -- into healthy, functioning nerve cells to replace nerves damaged by Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, brain or spinal-cord traumas, or stroke. The campaign's website features videos about the research and Penn State Head Basketball Coach Patrick Chambers who shares the impact of such medical conditions on his own family.

The research is led by Gong Chen, a professor of biology and Penn State's Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences. He directs a team that is working on research projects related to brain and spinal-cord disorders. His revolutionary work may be developed to treat a wide variety of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal-cord injury, epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia.

The lab's innovative technique for transforming glial cells in the brain into functioning nerve cells is the latest in a recent series of discoveries that have been published by highly respected scientific journals including Cell, Nature, Cell Stem Cell and Nature Communications, among others.

"Our technology is completely different from classical stem-cell therapy, where external cells that have been cultured in artificial conditions for a long time are then transplanted into the brain. A big problem with stem-cell therapy is that the patient's body often rejects the foreign cells," Chen said. "In contrast, our technology transforms a patient's own glial cells into functioning neurons. Our technology eliminates the possibility that the patient's immune system will reject the transformed cells."

Chen's lab currently is developing another revolutionary technique using small molecules to transform human glial cells into functional neurons, instead of using viruses or other agents typically used in stem-cell therapy. An intriguing advantage of the small molecules is that they can be packaged in a way to penetrate the blood-brain barrier in order to get inside the injured brain to help it heal. This advantage makes it possible to make drug pills that can be swallowed by patients to treat brain disorders. 

"It is exciting to imagine that one day patients can take a daily pill to regenerate new neurons in their brains," Chen said. "We have made an important step toward that goal, and we are hoping that support from crowd funding will help us reach that goal much more quickly."

  • Gong Chen Quote
    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 31, 2015