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Health and Medicine

Cleveland Clinic researchers tap into brain's own defense system
Microglia cells are part of the brain's immune system, but they can also help prevent injuries and disease

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
There's more to the brain than nerve cells. One cell type, called microglial cells, provide the immune response for the brain. New research shows that microglial cells can also protect the brain from injury.
Courtesy of J. E. Theriot, CC Flickr
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Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are learning more about how the brain heals itself.  A new study details how certain cells in the brain can also be activated to prevent injury.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports the findings could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s, MS, and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

St.Clair on brain healing

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They’re called microglia cells, and until now it hasn’t been clear all of what they can do in the brain.  Some people thought they actually contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, but Bruce Trapp, head of neurosciences at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute says the opposite is actually true.

“I’m of the opinion that the microglia cells are in the brain to protect it, and I think they do a pretty good job,” says Trapp.

Trapp and his team used high resolution imaging to see how the microglia cells protect the brain’s nerve fibers from injury, and help repair neural connections.

“We feel we’ve made a huge step forward by identifying basic mechanisms of this neural protection that now we can try and manipulate into other settings," says Trapp.  He says, "probably the most important would be chronic diseases of the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, MS, ALS, all of those diseases.”

Trapp says the discoveries could also allow doctors to tap into the brain’s own defense system to reduce the risks of surgery.  The findings appeared this week in the online journal Nature Communications.

(Click image for larger view.)

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