Strategic Development of Neural Stem and Progenitor Cell Products
Neurogenesis is the process by which neurons are created. This process is most active during pre-natal development when neurogenesis is responsible for populating the growing brain. Neural stem cells (NSCs) are the self-renewing, multipotent cells that differentiate into the main phenotypes of the nervous system. These cell types include neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. Neural progenitor cells (NPCs) are the progeny of stem cell division that normally undergo a limited number of replication cycles in vivo.
In 1992, Reynolds and Weiss were the first to isolate neural stem cells from the striatal tissue of adult mice brain tissue, including the subventricular zone, which is a neurogenic area. Since then, neural progenitor and stem cells have been isolated from various areas of the adult brain, including non-neurogenic areas like the spinal cord, and from other species, including humans.
During the development of the nervous system, neural progenitor cells can either stay in the pool of proliferating undifferentiated cells or exit the cell cycle and differentiate. The past twenty years have seen great advances in neural stem cell research and applications. Researchers have isolated NSCs, which have demonstrated pluripotency and the ability to differentiate into many different immune system cell types.
In addition, NSCs can be regulated both in vitro and in vivo, which represent different commercial product opportunities. Neural stem cells have become of profound interest to the research community due to their potential to be used in drug discovery and delivery applications, as well as for tools of neural toxicology assessment.
NSC transplantation also represents a ground-breaking approach for treating a range of chronic neurological diseases and acute CNS injuries, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injury, among other conditions.
Furthermore, neural stem and progenitor cells offer the potential to safely carry out pharmacology assessment for drugs designed to impact brain function or physiology. As tests on human cells become increasingly feasible, the potential grows for companies to develop disease-specific cell assays. As novel drug delivery agents, neural stem cells also show promise in killing gliomas and other cancers.
To facilitate research resulting from these advances, a large and diverse market has emerged for neural stem cell products and services. One thriving component of the neural stem cell marketplace is the market for research tools and supplies. Among these research supply companies, dominant competitors include Thermo Fisher Scientific, Merck Millipore, Cellular Dynamics International (a FujiFilm Company), Ncardia, and STEMCELL Technologies, among others.
While the number of adult stem cell therapies entering clinical trials continues to expand, the development of neural stem cell therapies has been affected by barriers to entry that include patent restrictions, dominance of current competitors, and the complexity of neural stem cell applications. Despite these limitations, more than a dozen companies are pursuing preclinical and clinical programs using neural stem and progenitor cells as tools to address human injury and disease.
Pharmaceutical companies are also demonstrating intense interest in neural stem and progenitor cells. Because of their plasticity, ability to develop into the main phenotypes of the nervous system, and unlimited capacity for self-renewal, NSCs have been proposed for use in a variety of pharmaceutical applications, including:
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