Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have altered the environment of stem cells from rat spinal cords that allow paralyzed animals to move more than previously thought possible. The work has future implications for helping people with diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other types of spinal cord injury.
To communicate with each other and the spinal cord, nerve cells send messages along minute fibers called axons that project from the cells. According to an article published by the San Diego Union Tribune, the scientists found that after part of the spinal cords of these rats were destroyed, the researchers could use their new technique to promote axonal growth. It had been thought that promoting axonal growth of nerve cells did not work well.
In addition, the current study showed that the axons grew over great distances, said the researchers. This basically allowed the nerve cells to reconnect, spread beyond the injury, and communicate with each other as well as with the spinal cord and the brain.
The technique involved the scientists mixing stem cells into a gel that was applied directly on the injured area of the spinal cord.
“New connections grew in very large numbers and over very long distances after the most severe form of spinal cord injury,” according to study co-author Mark Tuszynski, as told to the San Diego Union Tribune. Tuszynski is the director of the UC San Diego Center for Neural Repair.
Tuszynski said that his group of scientists found that the stem cells sent out new axons “for truly remarkable distances in the spinal cord.” Previous studies showed axonal growth to be about two millimeters. In the current study, the axons grew ten times that length.
It was found that axons from early stage neurons grow “remarkably well in the injured adult spinal cord.”
He said that the scientists were conducting new experiments to see if what they learned in the laboratory could be applied to larger animals, and eventually, potentially, to humans. A current study uses the technique in a human clinical trial in patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Co-author of the study is UCSD neuroscientist Paul Lu. The work was published in the current issue of Cell.
Funding for further studies comes from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The agency has distributed $3 billion in state funds towards stem cell research.
Source: San Diego Union Tribune
This could be an amazing advancement for people with spinal cord injuries. To speak with a San Diego personal injury lawyer about your spinal cord injury, contact us today.