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Rodent of the Week: Transplanted human stem cells help paralyzed rats move

March 04, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • Stem cell research shows promise in treating spinal cord injuries.
Stem cell research shows promise in treating spinal cord injuries. (Advanced Cell Technology,…)

One of the high-profile areas of research for stem cells is in treatment of spinal cord injuries -- and there was progress to report this week. Researchers were able to transplant a type of human cell into rats with spinal cord injuries to help the animals regain some motor function.

Previous studies have shown that certain types of rat cells are necessary to repair spinal cord injuries. But the new study "brings it up to a human level," said Chris Proschel, the lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The researchers generated two types of astrocytes -- a type of cell found in the brain and spinal cord -- from human fetal stem cells. They implanted the astrocytes in rats with spinal cord injuries and found one type of astrocyte cells promoted vigorous recovery in the animals while the other did not. This shows that not all astrocytes have equal ability to repair damaged tissue.

The study also showed that transplanting the original stem cells directly into the spinal cords of the injured rats did not help them recover. Overall, the research indicates that scientists must first create and modify the most beneficial types of cells in the lab before transplanting them.
"It is clear that we cannot rely on the injured tissue to induce the most useful differentiation of these precursor cells," said Mark Noble, director of the University of Rochester Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute, in a news release.

Before the research can move to human trials, scientists must test the transplanted human astrocytes in other animal models that resemble severe human spinal cord injuries.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE.

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