The enteric nervous system (ENS) regulates important intestinal functions including: motility, sensation, absorption, secretion, blood flow and immune function. When injured or lacking, intestinal function is severely compromised. We were one of the first groups to describe that the intestine contains neural stem cells (NSCs) capable of generating new neurons (neurogenesis) throughout adult life, opening up the potential for using autologous therapies to treat ENS disorders. Several others have corroborated the presence of intestinal NSCs. We are working to isolate and characterize NSCs using different cell-enrichment techniques with the broad objectives of developing these cells as a source of neurons for the treatment of neurointestinal diseases. Currently we are grafting these NSCs into several animal models to asses for survival, differentiation to neurons and glia and function.
Our overall goal is to continue to characterize NSCs and to study their role in ENS regeneration in health and response to disease, as well as using the NSCs as possible cell-therapy for various forms of intestinal neuropathy including Hirschsprung’s disease. We believe that successful isolation, expansion, and transplantation of NSCs will have a significant impact on treatment of intestinal neuropathies and also help to clarify the mechanisms governing ENS regeneration and plasticity.
Our laboratory is a part of the enteric nervous system research unit of the pediatric surgery laboratories of the MGHfC and also a part of the neurogastroenterology program of MGHfC. This state of the art facility collaborates with the flow cytometry core and other specialized laboratories throughout the MGH system allowing for cutting-edge research in this field.
Jaime Belkind-Gerson MD, MSc
GI Director, Neurogastroenterology Program
MassGeneral Hospital for Children
Harvard Medical School
Div. of Pediatric GI/Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories
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