This talk explores how to heal damage from degenerative disorders such as MS and motor neuron disease (ALS).  It was presented at an official TEDGlobal 2013 conference.

TED TALK | After a traumatic brain injury, it sometimes happens that the brain can repair itself, building new brain cells to replace damaged ones.

But the repair doesn’t happen quickly enough to allow recovery from degenerative conditions like motor neuron disease (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS).

Siddharthan Chandran, a regenative neurologist, walks us through some new techniques using special stem cells that could allow the damaged brain to rebuild faster.

Stem cells meet regenerative neurology
Siddharthan Chandran, regenerative neurologist

Neurodegenerative diseases affect cells in the nervous system called neurons. Twenty million people worldwide are diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease each year, and at present they are all progressive and incurable.

The Chandran group, located at the University of Edinburgh, links clinical activity with laboratory research into two such conditions: multiple sclerosis and motor neuron disease.

Measuring disease course and treatment outcomes through disease bio-registers builds an increasingly accurate clinical picture. In parallel, studies in the lab — including using human stem cells — focus on understanding what is going wrong in the neurons and supporting cells called glia. Bringing these two strands together, the group aims to develop novel regenerative therapies and bring them to early-phase clinical trials

“Just to be clear: [The brain’s repair] happens not because of doctors. It’s in spite of doctors, not because of doctors.” — Siddharthan Chandran

In a related topic, Siddharthan Chandran also explores how to heal damage from degenerative disorders such as MS and motor neuron disease (ALS).

In a TED Talk, Chandran states:

Well, you know what? I think there is hope.

And there’s hope in this next section, of this brain section of somebody else with M.S., because what it illustrates is, amazingly, the brain can repair itself. It just doesn’t do it well enough. And so again, there are two things I want to show you.

First of all is the damage of this patient with M.S. And again, it’s another one of these white masses. But crucially, the area that’s ringed red highlights an area that is pale blue. But that area that is pale blue was once white. So it was damaged. It’s now repaired.

Just to be clear: It’s not because of doctors. It’s in spite of doctors, not because of doctors.

This is spontaneous repair. It’s amazing and it’s occurred because there are stem cells in the brain, even, which can enable new myelin, new insulation, to be laid down over the damaged nerves. And this observation is important for two reasons.

The first is it challenges one of the orthodoxies that we learnt at medical school, or at least I did, admittedly last century, which is that the brain doesn’t repair itself, unlike, say, the bone or the liver. But actually it does, but it just doesn’t do it well enough.

And the second thing it does, and it gives us a very clear direction of travel for new therapies — I mean, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know what to do here. You simply need to find ways of promoting the endogenous, spontaneous repair that occurs anyway.”

2013 TEDTalk | “Can the Damaged Brain Repair Itself?”


The Chandran lab works in the emerging discipline of Regenerative Neurology.

“Our research combines laboratory and clinical activity that includes human stem cells and specialist clinics to both study disease as well as undertake early phase clinical trials,” Chandran adds.  “The goal of our research is to develop novel treatments for patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, MS and MND. The core concepts of brain injury and repair, focused on glial-neuronal interaction, are studied using MS and MND as primary disease models.”

ABOUT SIDDHARTAN CHANDRAN:  Siddharthan Chandran is a clinical neurologist with a particular interest in neurodegenerative disease. His research combines specialist clinics with laboratory research on human stem cells.  His official website is

Chandran is MacDonald Professor of Neurology at the University of Edinburgh, Head of the Division of Clinical Neurosciences and Director of the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh (from 2009).  His PhD was in developmental neurobiology at the University of Cambridge (2000).

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