Stem Cell Research
Spinal cord injury treatment with neural stem cells
Sep 20, 2005 - 8:37:38 PM

Researchers at the UC Irvine Reeve-Irvine Research Center have used adult human neural stem cells to successfully regenerate damaged spinal cord tissue and improve mobility in mice.

The findings point to the promise of using this type of cells for possible therapies to help humans who have spinal cord injuries. Additionally, transplanted cells differentiated into new neurons that formed synaptic connections with mouse neurons.

When myelin is stripped away through disease or injury, sensory and motor deficiencies result and, in some cases, paralysis can occur. Previous Reeve-Irvine research has shown that transplantation of oligodendrocyte precursors derived from human embryonic stem cells restores mobility in rats.

“We were excited to find that the cells responded to the damage by making appropriate new cells that could assist in repair. This study supports the possibility that formation of new myelin and new neurons may contribute to recovery.”

Mice that received human neural stem cells nine days after spinal cord injury showed improvements in walking ability compared to mice that received either no cells or a control transplant of human fibroblast cells (which cannot differentiate into nervous system cells). Further experiments showed behavioral improvements after either moderate or more severe injuries, with the treated mice being able to step using the hind paws and coordinate stepping between paws whereas control mice were uncoordinated.

The cells survived and improved walking ability for at least four months after transplantation. Sixteen weeks after transplantation, the engrafted human cells were killed using diphtheria toxin (which is only toxic to the human cells, not the mouse). This procedure abolished the improvements in walking, suggesting that the human neural stem cells were the vital catalysts for the maintained mobility.

This study differs from previous work using human embryonic stem cells in spinal cord injury because the human neural stem cells were not coaxed into becoming specific cell types before transplantation.

“This work is a promising first step, and supports the need to study multiple stem cell types for the possibility of treating of human neurological injury and disease,” Anderson said.

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