Feeding the Schwanns: New technique could bring cell therapy for nerve damage a step closer

October 11, 2012

A new way to grow cells vital for nerve repair, developed by researchers from the University of Sheffield, could be a vital step for use in patients with severe nerve damage, including spinal injury (1).

are known to boost and amplify in animal models, but their clinical use has been held back because they are difficult, time-consuming and costly to culture.

The Sheffield team, led by Professor John Haycock, has developed a new technique with adult rat tissue which overcomes all these problems, producing Schwann cells in less than half the time and at much lower cost.

"The ability of Schwann cells to boost nerve growth was proved many years ago in animals, but if you want to use this technique with patients, the problem is: where do you get enough cells from?" says Professor Haycock, from the University's Department of .

"To reduce , the cells have to be grown from the patient's own tissue. Of course, you want to take the smallest amount of tissue necessary, so the technique must be efficient. It must also be fast, so treatment can begin as soon as possible after injury. For clinical use, it must also provide pure Schwann cells. And finally, to make it viable, it has to be at a reasonable cost."

Existing methods for growing Schwann cells from adult tissue promote the growth of another type of cell, called fibroblasts, which swamp the Schwann cells, reducing the speed they grow and their numbers. This means that large amounts of tissue are needed at the outset, to grow sufficient cells for therapeutic use. It also requires extra purification stages added to the process, making it slow and costly – taking up to 3 months to complete.

Professor Haycock and his team have come up with a very simple solution: feed the Schwann cells but starve the fibroblasts. The research, published today in Nature Protocols, uses an amino acid that only the Schwann cells can break down and feed off, and are able to produce a 97 per cent pure population of Schwann cells in a much shorter space of time – just 19 days – from a small sample of adult tissue.

Professor Haycock is confident the technique can be replicated in humans. His team are trialling same method using human nerve tissue, with results expected within the next 6 months.

Explore further: A step forward in effort to regenerate damaged nerves

More information: (1) The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month authorised the first Phase 1 clinical trial in the USA into the use of Schwann cells to reduce paralysis in spinal cord injury. The trial will see Schwann cells cultured from leg nerve tissue injected into the spine of newly paralyzed patients. The treatment is expected to take place up to five weeks after the injury took place, a delay imposed by the time it takes to culture and purify the cells. If Professor Haycock's method works with human tissue, this delay between injury and treatment could be substantially reduced.

Integrated culture and purification of rat Schwann cells from freshly isolated adult tissue, Rossukon Kaewkhaw, Andy M Scutt & John W Haycock is published in Nature Protocols: doi:10.1038/nprot.2012.118

Related Stories

A step forward in effort to regenerate damaged nerves

February 21, 2012

The carnage evident in disasters like car wrecks or wartime battles is oftentimes mirrored within the bodies of the people involved. A severe wound can leave blood vessels and nerves severed, bones broken, and cellular wreckage ...

Inproved repair to damage of the peripheral nervous system

June 15, 2012

Researchers from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter, in collaboration with colleagues from Rutgers University, Newark and University College London, have furthered understanding of the mechanism ...

Recommended for you

Fertilization discovery: Do sperm wield tiny harpoons?

August 26, 2015

Could the sperm harpoon the egg to facilitate fertilization? That's the intriguing possibility raised by the University of Virginia School of Medicine's discovery that a protein within the head of the sperm forms spiky filaments, ...

Research identifies protein that regulates body clock

August 26, 2015

New research into circadian rhythms by researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga shows that the GRK2 protein plays a major role in regulating the body's internal clock and points the way to remedies for jet lag ...

Anti-aging tricks from dietary supplement seen in mice

August 21, 2015

In human cells, shortened telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, are both a sign of aging and contribute to it. Scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have found that the dietary supplement ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.