A team of scientists report success in directing stem cells to regenerate damaged spinal cord tissue in rats.

The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, with colleagues in Japan and Wisconsin, note in their study that they grafted multipotent neural progenitor cells into sites of spinal cord injury in rats. They then directed the stem cells to specifically develop as a spinal cord.

Per the study, published recently in Nature Medicine, the stem cells formed functional synapses that improved the forelimb movements in the rats, according to a media release from University of California San Diego.

“The new thing here was that we used neural stem cells for the first time to determine whether they, unlike any other cell type tested, would support regeneration. And to our surprise, they did,” says senior study author Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Neurosciences and director of the UC San Diego Translational Neuroscience Institute, in the release.

“We humans use corticospinal axons for voluntary movement,” said Tuszynski. “In the absence of regeneration of this system in previous studies, I was doubtful that most therapies taken to humans would improve function. Now that we can regenerate the most important motor system for humans, I think that the potential for translation is more promising,” he adds in the release.

Much work needs to be done before human trials can begin, according to Tuszynski. This includes establishing long-term safety and long-term functional benefits in animals, devising methods for transferring the technology to humans in larger animal models, and identifying the best type of human neural stem cell to use in the trials.

[Source(s): University of California San Diego, EurekAlert]