Neural stem cells (also known as neural progenitors or neural precursor cells) are a relatively undifferentiated population(s) of cells in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord, CNS) that are thought to give rise to the broad array of specialized cells of the CNS, including both neurons and glial cells. Long thought to be an exclusive component of the developing CNS, these cells have been demonstrated to exist in adult animal, as well as human, CNS. New research showing that these cells can be isolated and cultured has, for the first time, allowed consideration of using these cells as a transplantable tissue for the repair of injury such as that sustained during traumatic brain injury or stroke or the repair of pathological processes such as those seen in certain genetic birth defects such as the lysosomal storage diseases. In addition, these cells allow the detailed study of the mechanisms of neural differentiation and the genetic and environmental signals that direct the specialization of the cells into particular cell types. In fact, using neural stem cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, researchers have begun to model human neurological diseases, such as autism, in the laboratory. In animal studies, promising research suggests that implantation of the cells into brain areas that have been damaged leads to some recovery of function of those brain areas. This aspect of research using neural precursors is only in its infancy but some early clinical trials of human neural stem cells in the treatment of genetic diseases have already started.
Other sources of information about stem cells:
National Institutes of Health
International Society for Stem Cell Research
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine