Stem Cells

About the SC2BC Study

The Stem Cells to Brain Cells (SC2BC) Study of the Autism Center of Excellence aims to help better understand how the development and growth of brain cells may affect brain size in children with ASD. We hope to better understand how a bigger brain may influence symptoms and outcomes for children with autism. This study is being done in collaboration with researchers at Stanford University.

Recent developments in technology allow researchers to create brain cells (called "neurons") from blood cells. For the first time, it has become possible to directly study neurons from living individuals with ASD simply by having a sample of their blood. The blood cells that are collected from your child are transformed (or "induced") into stem cells which have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. These precursor cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells or IPSCs. Together with our collaborators at Stanford University, we will use these stem cells to grow the cell types found in the brain in tissue culture in order to study how their growth and development may differ in children with bigger brains compared to other children, and see how these differences are unique to children with ASD. The hope is that by understanding the processes by which the brain grows too large, new drugs can be developed to treat the effects of these processes.

In order to participate in SC2BC, you and your child would also need to participate in the BRAIN study. After completing the first phase of the BRAIN study, the study team will notify you if you are also eligible for SC2BC. You and your child would not need to make any extra trips to the MIND Institute for participation, but would only need to sign a written consent to use previously collected blood for the creation of these stem cells.

About Stem Cells

Within the human body, there are many types of cells, each with its own specialized purpose and function, including blood cells, skin cells, muscle cells, brain cells, and more. There are over 220 different types of specialized cells in a human body. Each of these specialized cells initially develops from an unspecialized type (or "precursor")cell called a "stem cell". The first stem cells are found in a human embryo, and those first stem cells eventually develop into every type of cell in the body.

Early on in development, these stem cells have the potential to become any cell type. Stem cells with this broad potential are called "pluripotent". In early stages of fetal development, there are many pluripotent stem cells. As development continues, these cells become more and more specialized or committed to be one cell type.

How stem cells work

Using modern scientific technology, scientists can take some of the specialized cells, such as blood cells, and change them back into stem cells. These are called "induced pluripotent stem cells" or IPSCs. By creating these IPSCs, researchers can then reprogram the cells into whichever specialized cell type they would like to study. In the SC2BC study, we will be studying brain cells (called neurons and glia). While researchers couldn't normally look at neurons in a living person, stem cell technologies allow for this important research to take place.