This study, funded through the Pseudo Obstruction Research Trust, aims to demonstrate enteric neurogenesis by human enteric glia. The team will use fresh human intestine for systematic development in a step-by-step manner. The newly-formed neurons will be characterized by qPCR and immunohistochemistry.

They will then compare the characteristics of the newly-formed neurons with adult neurons isolated from a freshly-digested human colon. Finally they will look to understand how the migration patterns of human enteric neurons can be manipulated. To support this they will use human isolated colon and measure enteric neural migration and neurite outgrowth from neural precursors.

What is neurogenesis?It is the process by which nervous system cells (neurons) are produced by neural stem cells.
What are glia?Glia are cells in the central nervous system that support the function of the neurons.
What is neurite outgrowth?The process by which projections develop from neuron cells.
What is a precursor cell?A cell in the process of development between stem cell and a fully differentiated cell.

The researchers

The team is being led by Professor Joanne Martin, Professor of Pathology at the Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London.

Why study the potential of developing neurons for tissue repair?

Each year around 170 babies are born in the UK with Hirschprung’s disease. This means that the neurons in their guts don’t form properly. Other children develop bowel dysfunction as they grow, known as chronic intestinal pseudo obstruction (CIPO). In adults CIPO can result from injury or disease.

This dysfunction of the digestive system means that patients are unable to digest food or pass stools, some even have trouble swallowing. Effectively food gets parked in the digestive system when in a healthy person it is continually moved through by a motion called peristalsis. Symptoms include pain, nausea and vomiting and bloating. There are few options currently for these patients, some of whom require enteric feeding of a liquid nutrient dense diet so that at least some nutrition is possible. CIPO can be life limiting.

The possibility of developing a therapy that could seed and migrate new functioning nerve cells could have a significant impact on the quality of life of these patients and could be a lifeline for some of the most poorly.