Neuroscience in the Department of Neurosurgery focuses on brain disease and injury, with the goals of protecting and repairing damage caused by stroke, cancer, and trauma, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease. Under the direction of Pak H. Chan, strong collaborations between basic scientists and scientist-clinicians are making this our most productive era of basic research. Although research themes vary from lab to lab, they are all focused on aspects of brain disease and injury that can be investigated at the bench—and they all have clear implications for practices in the clinic and operating room.
Hypothermia and Stroke: A Laboratory-Clinic Connection
The efficacy of mild hypothermia in treating stroke is a vivid example of a laboratory-clinic connection that Stanford Neurosurgery faculty and collaborators find mutually beneficial. Hypothermia gained increasing acceptance in the 1990's when it was discovered that reducing body temperature by only a few degrees protected the brain from damage and improved treatment outcomes. Laboratory models of stroke may be used to determine the conditions that maximize the beneficial effects of hypothermia, and provide a window into the intra- and inter-cellular mechanisms underlying stroke damage. Promising therapies are suggested by and explored with laboratory research, and some of these therapies, such as mild hypothermia, are then tested in the clinic. It is fundamental to our mission to maintain and strengthen the laboratory-clinic connection.
Gene Therapy for Stroke
Much of the damage to the brain caused by stroke is due to the generation of “radical oxygen species” which initiate processes leading to neuron damage and death. In a massive collaborative effort by Neurosurgery scientists and researchers in Biological Sciences, Neurology, and Anesthesiology, we have found that endogenous antioxidants can counteract much of this oxidative damage. This research program has succeeded in part because a number of powerful neurobiological methods have been brought to bear on the problem. Mice and rats that over- or under-express antioxidant proteins (methods pioneered by our Director of Neurosurgical Research, Dr. Pak H. Chan), gene therapy designed to enhance antioxidant function of neurons (in collaboration with Dr. Robert Sapolsky in Biological Sciences), and a combination of whole-animal and cell-culture techniques (the latter aided by our collaboration with Dr. Rona Giffard in Anesthesiology) have allowed our Cerebrovascular Disease Research Group to greatly extend the science of stroke.
Neural Stem Cell Transplantation
Our laboratories conduct laboratory and clinical research to determine whether stem cells isolated from human brain tissue can survive and become functional parts of a damaged brain, and ultimately lead to improved clinical outcomes.
Stem Cell Biology/Neurogenesis
“Stem Cell Research” is a far broader field than suggested by news reports that focus on ethical considerations involved in the use of stem cells derived from human embryos and fetuses. We study the process of “neurogenesis,” or the brain's ability to grow new neurons. Such a process was long thought to be absent in the brain, but research in the last decade, much of it by Stanford Neurosurgery researchers, has shown neurogenesis to be robust and important to brain function and perhaps to the repair of the brain after injury.
Brain Tumor Biology
Neurosurgery scientists also study the presence and roles of stem-like cells in brain tumors, research that is already suggesting ways to inhibit brain tumor growth and destroy tumors.