Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are developing the means to turn stem cells into a wide range of specific types of spinal cord neurons and cells in the hindbrain — the critical nexus between the spinal cord and the brain — paving the way for improved prevention and treatment of spinal cord disease.

In a new study published in Science Advances, scientists from UW–Madison’s Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center describe a new protocol for differentiating human pluripotent stem cells into nearly the full spectrum of neuronal cell types that arise during early hindbrain and spinal cord development — important, because neuronal cells have so many different, specialized jobs within the body. The study also uses new bioinformatic analyses to capture previously unknown information about their development in humans.

“The ability to study human hindbrain development so early is of high significance because many developmental disorders manifest themselves through disruptions in the developmental program very early,” says Sushmita Roy, co-author of the study and a UW–Madison professor of of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics and faculty at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. “Having a model system to study this process will help us understand possible regulatory or genetic causes of different developmental diseases.”

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