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Neural stem cells have been suggested to function as the primary precursors of new neurons. Most of our current knowledge on neurogenesis has come largely from rodent studies, however, it remains to be seen if this knowledge translates directly to human neurogenesis. We are interested in understanding the organization and cytoarchitecture of the human subventricular zone (SVZ), an area which we believe to be the most prominent region of neurogenisis in adulthood (the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is the second). Studies based on understanding the rodent SVZ have suggested that astrocytes in the rodent's brain are adult neural stem cells. By comparing the rodent and the human SVZ, we have been able to appreciate the intricacies of the latter. Rodent studies have paved the way for our understanding of the SVZ, but now our goal is to use human specimens to study the function of the human brain.

In our attempts to further our understanding of adult neurogenesis, organization, cytoarchitecture, and function, and to test whether human astrocytes can function as neural stem cells and how we can manipulate their environment; our laboratory has created a human brain tissue bank from intraoperative specimens of normal as well as cancerous tissue that would otherwise be discarded from pediatric and adult patients. Our laboratory also has a bank of fetal and postmortem adult brain tissue that we have used for standard immunohistochemical staining. To date, over 70 intraoperative specimens have been collected from the margins of tissue resected around intracranial lesions such as tumors, epileptic foci, and vascular malformations. Postmortem specimens were only collected from patients with no neurological disease and whose causes of death were non-neurological in nature.

Our long-term aims are to investigate if neural stem cells arising from the SVZ have oncogenic properties and if they are implicated in the development of human brain cancer, a devastating disease for which no cure or mechanisms of formation are known. If a positive implication does indeed exist, novel cell replacement approaches could be developed to treat the injured and diseased brain. Because the SVZ is known to be a source of oligodendrocytes during development and in the adult brain after demyelinating lesions, the interest in the SVZ as a site of neuronal progenitors is of extreme importance for future studies geared towards brain repair therapies.

 

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Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa: His story...

Dr. QuinonesFrom an illegal migrant worker to a Johns Hopkins brain surgeon. It sounds like a movie plot, but the leading man now walks Hopkins' hallways. Read Dr Quiñones' story.

Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa is named among Popular Science's 6th Annual Brilliant Ten.

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