A new study from Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden and published in Scientific Reports suggests that human stem cells transplanted into the injured spinal cord may help contribute to the restoration of some sensory functions lost due to avulsion injuries.

A press release from the university explains that ruptures of nerve fibers that enter/exit the spinal cord, otherwise known as avulsion injuries, affect the innervation of the arm and hand, and lead to paralysis, loss of sensation, and cause chronic pain. Although surgical techniques may help patients regain some muscle function, there are currently no treatments available to restore sensory functions.

This is because of the emergence of a “barrier” at the junction between the ruptured nerve fibers and the spinal cord that prevents the fibers from growing into the spinal cord and restoring the lost nerve connections, the release continues.

A research group in Regenerative Neurobiology led by Elena Kozlova, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University, transplanted human stem cells into an avulsion injury in mice. Their goal, according to the release, was to restore a functional route for sensory information from peripheral tissues into the spinal cord.

The team performed the study in collaboration with scientists from Australia, the Netherlands, and the United States.

The release explains that the results show that the transplanted stem cells acted as a “bridge” that allowed injured sensory nerve fibers to grow into the spinal cord, rebuild functional nerve connections, and achieve long-term restoration of sensory function. The transplanted stem cells also differentiated to different types of cells with variable levels of maturation specific for the nervous system.

The research team saw no signs of tumor development or any functional abnormalities from the transplanted stem cells, per the release.

In the release, the team notes that these study results could encourage further research on the use of stem cells for treatment of injury and disease in the spinal cord, and may contribute to the development of novel treatment strategies in these disorders.

[Source: Uppsala University]