Worms, humans, brain damage: How do they connect?

Worms, humans, brain damage: How do they connect?

The genetic make-up of worms could be used to eventually repair brain damage in humans, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered.The team performed a process on tiny translucent C. elegans worms, which introduced synthetically engineered connections or synapses in order to bypass missing or damaged connections between neurons in the brain.The worms studied were each experiencing a failed odor response due to neuronal loss. The researchers used their method to place a synthetic bypass in place, which resulted in a successful response to odor stimuli following the corrective procedure.”While this is a discovery that has so far been limited to a tiny worm, it opens the door for potential applications that may be relevant down the road to humans,” said Dr. Ithai Rabinowitch, a Neurobiologist in the Faculty of Medicine at Hebrew University, who led the research. “At present, various approaches are used for addressing human brain damage, including brain-computer interfaces that are based on external electronics rerouting information flow between intact brain regions.  “This research indicates a new potential route for addressing brain damage, whether caused by direct physical trauma or stroke or other neurological disease, through genetically engineered changes in brain connectivity that can serve as biological neural bypasses.”The study used the species C. elegans to research as they share many similarities with humans.The researchers published their findings in the biological journal Cell Systems.

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“In studying this tiny worm, we were able to advance our theory in an organism that has only several hundred neurons as opposed to the tens of billions neurons in the human brain,” Rabinowitch says. “Our great hope is that as this study advances and is applied more broadly in the worm’s nervous system and in other organisms, we will one day be looking at genetic therapies based on synthetic brain rewiring as possible treatments for devastating brain disease and damage.”

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