Spinal cord injury often results in permanent impairment of limb function, although human stem cells have been used to repair spinal cord injury in rats.
Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology introduced human stem cells into rats that had their spinal cords severed, with many of the rats regaining fine motor control, with strong signs that their spinal cord injury was starting to heal.
For the study, the researchers harvested human oral mucosa stem cells (hOMSC) and implanted the cells on a 3D construct. The cells and 3D scaffold were introduced into rats that had had their spinal cords severed, and the cells were induced to differentiate into support cells and secrete neuroprotective, immunomodulatory, and axonal elongation-associated factors to promote neural growth. The scaffold was also seeded with human fibrinogen and thrombin to help stabilize and support neurons.
Three weeks after the introduction of the scaffold and stem cells, 42% of the rats showed a marked improvement in fine motor control and significant improvement in the ability to support their weight on their hind legs. Three quarters of the rats also started responding to stimuli on their hind legs and tails. The control group, which received no stem cells or scaffold, showed no improvement over the same time frame.
Not all of the rats showed improvement, and it is currently unclear why that was the case. The researchers are still trying to determine why some rats responded well to the treatment and others showed no improvement at all.
The researchers used a variety of techniques to assess whether there was a reconnection that bridged the injured area including MRI scans, immunofluorescence, CLARITY, and electrophysiological assessments. The researchers were able to demonstrate an increase in myelinated axons and neural precursors, and a reduction in glial scar tissue.
The research is encouraging, although it will be a long time before this approach could be considered for use in humans with spinal cord injury, although there is hope that the technology could prove to be an effective treatment that could help human patients bridge the gap and repair spinal cord injury.
The research study – Implantation of 3D Constructs Embedded with Oral Mucosa-Derived Cells Induces Functional Recovery in Rats with Complete Spinal Cord Transection – was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.