Transplanting human embryonic stem cells does not cause harm and can be used as a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of acute spinal cord injury, according to a recent study by UC Irvine researchers.
UCI neurobiologist Hans Keirstead and colleagues at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center found that rats with either mild or severe spinal cord injuries that were transplanted with a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells suffered no visible injury or ill effects as a result of the treatment itself.
Furthermore, the study confirmed previous findings by Keirstead’s lab – since replicated by four other laboratories around the world – that replacing a cell type lost after injury improves the outcome after spinal cord injury in rodents. The findings are published in the current issue of Regenerative Medicine.
In 2005, Keirstead’s lab was the first to coax human embryonic stem cells to become highly pure specialized cells known as oligodendrocytes. These cells are the building blocks of myelin, which acts as insulation for nerve fibers and is critical for maintenance of electrical conduction in the central nervous system. When myelin is stripped away through disease or injury, paralysis can occur.
In this study, as in the original one, when the rats suffering from severe spinal cord injury were injected with the oligodendrocytes seven days after injury, the cells migrated to the appropriate sites within the spinal cord and wrapped around the damaged neurons, forming new myelin tissue.
Keirstead is working with Geron Corp. to bring this treatment for acute spinal cord injury into Phase I clinical trials within the next year.
Frank Cloutier, Monica Siegenthaler and Gabriel Nistor collaborated on the study, which was supported by Geron Corp.; a UC Discovery Grant; the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund of California; Research for Cure; and individual donations to the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.