Paraplegic rats walk and regain feeling after stem cell treatment

November 16, 2017, Frontiers
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

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 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 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 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 . 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."

Explore further: Using donor stem cells to treat spinal cord injury

More information: Javier Ganz et al, Implantation of 3D Constructs Embedded with Oral Mucosa-Derived Cells Induces Functional Recovery in Rats with Complete Spinal Cord Transection, Frontiers in Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00589

Related Stories

Using donor stem cells to treat spinal cord injury

August 28, 2017
A new study in mice published in The Journal of Neuroscience details a potential therapeutic strategy that uses stem cells to promote recovery of motor activity after spinal cord injury.

Neural stem cell therapies could eventually play a role in treating spinal cord injuries

May 4, 2017
Researchers in Qatar and Egypt, working with colleagues in Italy and the US, have found that injured spinal cords in rats show signs of tissue regeneration several weeks following injection with neural stem cells.

Study first to identify the cells driving gecko's ability to re-grow its tail

November 2, 2017
A University of Guelph researcher is the first to discover the type of stem cell that is behind the gecko's ability to re-grow its tail, a finding that has implications for spinal cord treatment in humans.

New hope for spinal cord injuries

April 11, 2016
esearchers from Hokkaido University in Japan together with an international team of scientists implanted specialized embryonic stem cells into the severed spinal cords of rats. The stem cells, called neural progenitor cells, ...

Working around spinal injuries: Rehabilitation, drug treatment lets rats recover some involuntary movement

July 24, 2017
A new study in rats shows that changes in the brain after spinal cord injury are necessary to restore at least some function to lower limbs. The work was published recently in the journal eLife.

New surgical strategy offers hope for repairing spinal injuries

July 28, 2017
Scientists in the UK and Sweden previously developed a new surgical technique to reconnect sensory neurons to the spinal cord after traumatic spinal injuries. Now, they have gained new insight into how the technique works ...

Recommended for you

Scientists identify connection between dopamine and behavior related to pain and fear

April 19, 2018
Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have for the first time found direct causal links between the neurotransmitter dopamine and avoidance—behavior related to pain and fear.

Neurons derived from super-obese people respond differently to appetite hormones

April 19, 2018
US scientists have successfully generated hypothalamic-like neurons from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) taken from the blood and skin cells of super-obese individuals and people with a normal body weight. The ...

Pathways to spatial recognition

April 19, 2018
When you are lost or disoriented, your brain uses cues from your surroundings—landmarks both near and far—to sort out where you are. The information gathered by your senses is transmitted by nerve cells, or neurons, to ...

3-D human 'mini-brains' shed new light on genetic underpinnings of major mental illness

April 19, 2018
Major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, severe depression and bipolar disorder share a common genetic link. Studies of specific families with a history of these types of illnesses have revealed that affected family ...

Researchers develop a new method to discover drugs to treat epilepsy

April 19, 2018
For more than a third of children living with epilepsy, the currently approved medications do not stop their seizures. This statistic has not changed for the past five decades, despite the development of many new anti-seizure ...

Study shows creativity is state of mind that can be trained

April 19, 2018
As an undergraduate student at York University, Joel Lopata was studying film production and jazz performance when a discrepancy became apparent.

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.