Regenerative medicine for neurological diseases - Will regenerative neurosurgery deliver?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Regenerative medicine aspires to transform the future practice of medicine by providing curative, rather than palliative, treatments. Healing the central nervous system (CNS) remains among regenerative medicine's most highly prized but formidable challenges. "Regenerative neurosurgery"provides access to the CNS or its surrounding structures to preserve or restore neurological function. Pioneering efforts over the past three decades have introduced cells, neurotrophins, and genes with putative regenerative capacity into the CNS to combat neurodegenerative, ischemic, and traumatic diseases. In this review we critically evaluate the rationale, paradigms, and translational progress of regenerative neurosurgery, harnessing access to the CNS to protect, rejuvenate, or replace cell types otherwise irreversibly compromised by neurological disease. We discuss the evidence surrounding fetal, somatic, and pluripotent stem cell derived implants to replace endogenous neuronal and glial cell types and provide trophic support. Neurotrophin based strategies via infusions and gene therapy highlight the motivation to preserve neuronal circuits, the complex fidelity of which cannot be readily recreated. We specifically highlight ongoing translational efforts in Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke, and spinal cord injury, using these to illustrate the principles, challenges, and opportunities of regenerative neurosurgery. Risks of associated procedures and novel neurosurgical trials are discussed, together with the ethical challenges they pose. After decades of efforts to develop and refine necessary tools and methodologies, regenerative neurosurgery is well positioned to advance treatments for refractory neurological diseases. Strategic multidisciplinary efforts will be critical to harness complementary technologies and maximize mechanistic feedback, accelerating iterative progress toward cures for neurological diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbern955
JournalThe BMJ
StatePublished - Jun 23 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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