Human Stem Cells Allow Paraplegic Rats to Walk and Regain Sensory Perception

Stem Cell Treatment Heals Paraplegic Rats

Characterization of hOMSC constructs. (A) Preparation scheme of naïve and induced hOMSC constructs. (B) Viability of hOMSC after on-scaffold induction (green indicates viable cells and red indicates dead cells), scale bar = 500 μm. (C) GFP signals showing cellular projections in hOMSC-GFP engineered cells after induction, scale bar = 10 μm. (D) RT-PCR-based comparison between 3D on-scaffold-induced hOMSCs (dotted bars) and hOMSCs induced in culture plates (solid bars): pluripotency and neural crest markers (green and magenta), neuronal markers (yellow), astrocytic markers (red), and neurotrophic factors (blue). Bars represent fold-increase compared to naïve hOMSCs (mean ± SEM). Statistical differences between 2D and 3D induced hOMSC (n = 3/group) were assessed by T-test (*p < 0.05). Astrocyte markers GFAP (green) and EAAT1 (red) in naïve hOMSC constructs (E) and induced constructs (F) (scale bar = 100 μm, n = 5/group).

Engineered tissue containing human stem cells has allowed paraplegic rats to walk independently and regain sensory perception. The implanted rats also show some degree of healing in their spinal cords. The research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, demonstrates the great potential of stem cells — undifferentiated cells that can develop into numerous different types of cells — to treat spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injuries often lead to paraplegia. Achieving substantial recovery following a complete spinal cord tear, or transection, is an as-yet unmet challenge.

Led by Dr. Shulamit Levenberg, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the researchers implanted human stem cells into rats with a complete spinal cord transection. The stem cells, which were derived from the membrane lining of the mouth, were induced to differentiate into support cells that secrete factors for neural growth and survival.

The work involved more than simply inserting stem cells at various intervals along the spinal cord. The research team also built a three-dimensional scaffold that provided an environment in which the stem cells could attach, grow and differentiate into support cells. This engineered tissue was also seeded with human thrombin and fibrinogen, which served to stabilize and support neurons in the rat’s spinal cord.

Rats treated with the engineered tissue containing stem cells showed higher motor and sensory recovery compared to control rats. Three weeks after the introduction of the stem cells, 42% of the implanted paraplegic rats showed a markedly improved ability to support weight on their hind limbs and walk. 75% of the treated rats also responded to gross stimuli to the hind limbs and tail.

In contrast, control paraplegic rats that did not receive stem cells showed no improved mobility or sensory responses.

In addition, the lesions in the spinal cords of the treated rats subsided to some extent. This indicates that their spinal cords were healing.

While the results are promising, the technique did not work for all implanted rats. An important area for further research will be to determine why stem cell implantation worked in some cases but not others. As the research team notes, “This warrants further investigation to shed light on the mechanisms underlying the observed recovery, to enable improved efficacy and to define the intervention optimal for treatment of spinal cord injury.”

Although the study in itself does not solve the challenge of providing medical treatments for spinal cord injury in humans, it nevertheless points the way to that solution. As Dr. Levenberg puts it: “Although there is still some way to go before it can be applied in humans, this research gives hope.”

Reference: “Implantation of 3D Constructs Embedded with Oral Mucosa-Derived Cells Induces Functional Recovery in Rats with Complete Spinal Cord Transection” by Javier Ganz, Erez Shor, Shaowei Guo, Anton Sheinin, Ina Arie, Izhak Michaelevski, Sandu Pitaru, Daniel Offen and Shulamit Levenberg, 31 October 2017, Frontiers in Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00589

1 Comment on "Human Stem Cells Allow Paraplegic Rats to Walk and Regain Sensory Perception"

  1. Isn’t it about time we start using these stemcells to treat & cure patients? All of the experiments, the results, the biology of these cells promote healing in many, many ways.

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