New developments in stem cell therapy hold promise for spinal cord injury patients. Scientists have discovered a new way to deliver neural precursor cells to rats with spinal cord injuries. The discovery reduces the risk of further injury and improves the growth of cells with reparative potential.
The research was led by physician-scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine. The team recently published their findings in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.
“NSCs (neural precursor cells) hold great potential for treating a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and injuries to the spinal cord. The stem cells possess the ability to differentiate into multiple types of neural cell, depending upon their environment. As a result, there is great interest and much effort to use these cells to repair spinal cord injuries and effectively restore related functions.”
A Stem Cell Injection Method with Fewer Potential Risks
Traditionally, stem cells are injected directly by needle into the spinal parenchyma — a key set of nerve fibers running through the vertebra. “As such, there is an inherent risk of (further) spinal tissue injury or intraparenchymal bleeding,” Martin Marsala, MD, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine told Science Daily.
The new injection method takes a less invasive approach. Cells are instead introduced into the spinal subpial space — a space between the pial membrane and the spinal cord.
“This injection technique allows the delivery of high cell numbers from a single injection,” said Marsala. “Cells with proliferative properties, such as glial progenitors, then migrate into the spinal parenchyma and populate over time in multiple spinal segments as well as the brain stem. Injected cells acquire the functional properties consistent with surrounding host cells.”
Improved Treatment Expected
The team suspects that subpial-injected cells are likely to improve, strengthen, and accelerate cell-replacement therapy treatments.
“This may include spinal traumatic injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis,” added senior author Joseph Ciacci, MD, a neurosurgeon at UC San Diego Health.
Stem Cell Doctors & Researchers Next Steps
Next, the researchers will test the process on larger test animals with spinal trauma that are closer to human body shape and size.
“The goal is to define the optimal cell dosing and timing of cell delivery after spinal injury, which is associated with the best treatment effect,” said Marsala.