Research Laboratory - Inselspital Bern - Neurochirurgie

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Research Laboratory

Research on restorative neurosurgery

The laboratory of Prof. Hans Rudolf Widmer is internationally recognized for their work on restorative neurosurgery. Their research focuses on stem cell therapy for neurodegenerative diseases and neuropathological conditions.

The microphotograph shows cultured neurons with numerous nerve processes growing in all directions

Stem cells provide the source

The brain is a highly complex organ, not only due to the complexity of the various types of nerve cells, but also due to the immense network of nerve connections. All cells of the mature brain develop from stem cells. What begins as a very simple collection of cells rapidly develops and becomes more complex as the necessary cells and cell groups (nuclei) differentiate and become specialized for a particular function. Specialized cells arise from stem cells and undifferentiated cells, and in the mature brain they become specialized for specific functions. The initial part of the brain development involves the differentiation of cells into their future areas of specialization.

Growth factors control the development of connections in the brain

Growth factors are important for cell growth and differentiation in the developing brain. In a newborn human, more than 100,000 cells are generated per minute. After birth the development of nerve cells slows down and the brain grows mainly through the development of new connections and non-neuronal cells (e.g., glial cells). Interestingly, the connections between the nerve cells can be modulated – this means that the connections between the neuronal branches are not fixed in place, but can be removed or renewed in adults in certain brain areas. There is evidence that some brain areas may be able to generate new neurons after brain injury or disease. Growth factors may play a critical role in this generation of new neurons.

Research is important for understanding the brain

Knowledge of developmental biology is an important basis for understanding the function of nerve cells in the neuronal network. A better understanding of how growth factors work will help to explain how specific types of nerve cells develop, and this may help to guide the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and other neuropathological conditions.

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