The flexible needles could help doctors deliver stem cells to broader areas of the brain with fewer injections.
As the surgical team prepared its instruments, a severed human head lay on the plastic tray, its face covered by a blue cloth. It had thawed over the past 24 hours, and a pinky-sized burr hole had been cut near the top of its skull. Scalp covered with salt-and-pepper stubble wrinkled above and below a pink strip of smooth bone.
Over the next two hours, the head would be scanned in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine as the researchers, led by Daniel Lim, a neurosurgeon and stem-cell scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, tested a flexible needle for delivering cells to the brain.
Several laboratories are investigating ways to treat neurological diseases by injecting cells into patients’ brains, and clinical trials are being conducted for Parkinson’s disease, stroke and other neurodegenerative diseases. These studies follow experiments showing dramatic improvements in rats and mice. But as work on potentially therapeutic cells has surged ahead, necessary surgical techniques have lagged behind, says Lim.