Riding the neural crest  pg. 2

Following the glowing cells with imaging technologies has already revealed a surprise: differences between neurons and glia are evident when the neural crest cells are just starting their journey to the gut, suggesting that cells make fate decisions earlier than scientists believed, Southard-Smith says.

In addition to tracking cells as they migrate, the researchers are capturing the glowing cells and culturing them in the laboratory. The aim is to understand how the cells respond to various growth factors and to evaluate their ability to form enteric nerves and glia after transplantation into a mouse model of Hirschsprung’s disease.

Ultimately, the research could offer treatment options for patients with the disease, Southard-Smith says.

“There are neural crest cells in skin – we’re hoping to take them out and reprogram them with cues to make them become enteric neurons and glia,” she says. “That’s where we’re going with this.”

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