Mice treated with immature human neurons provide insight into treating spinal cord injuries

A dependable remedy for spinal cord injuries may have been found in mice treated with immature human neurons post-spinal cord injuries.

Recently, a UC San Francisco team of researchers transplanted immature human neurons into the spinal cords of mice with spinal cord injuries in order to demonstrate that the cells would merge into the damaged cord to improve bladder control and reduce pain.  Both of which are two common and annoying symptoms for patients with spinal cord injuries.

According to Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, professor of developmental and stem cell biology and director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, “This is an important proof of principle for using cell therapy to repair damaged neural tissue. It brings us one step closer to using such transplants to bring much-needed relief to people with spinal cord injuries.”

More than 250,000 people in the US alone suffer from spinal cord injuries with almost 20,000 new cases each year.  These patients suffer from paralysis, loss of sensation, chronic neuropathic pain, and bladder dysfunction.  Linda Noble-Haeusslein, PhD, the Alvera L. Kan Endowed Chair of Neurological Surgery and a professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation at UCSF said, “The field has been very focused on restoring patients’ ability to walk, perhaps because that’s often their most visible impairment.”

“More than 250,000 people in the US alone suffer from spinal cord injuries with almost 20,000 new cases each year.”

This study tested to see if human GABA-producing cells could integrate into the damaged spinal cord and fix the bladder dysfunction and chronic pain.  They used human embryonic stem cells to differentiate into MGE-like inhibitory neuron precursors which were transplanted into mice two weeks after a thoracic spinal cord injury.  Just six months later, the cells migrated toward the site of injury and developed into mature inhibitory neurons and actually made synaptic connections in the damaged spinal cord.

The mice ended up hypersensitive without inhibitory neurons, but they also had better bladder function and improved bladder muscle function.

These researchers predict that this information will be useful in cell therapy trials in humans.  They will have to replicate these findings and find the proper timing for the intervention.  Of course, there are also the safety concerns to take into consideration.  However, this is likely to be very useful  in the future.

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