Using stem cells to restore lost functions due to spinal cord injury (SCI) has long been an ambition of scientists and doctors. Nearly 18,000 people in the United States suffer SCIs each year, with another 294,000 persons living with an SCI, usually involving some degree of permanent paralysis or diminished physical function, such as bladder control or difficulty breathing.
In a new study published in Cell Stem Cell, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report successfully implanting highly specialized grafts of neural stem cells directly into spinal cord injuries in mice, then documenting how the grafts grew and filled the injury sites, integrating with and mimicking the animals’ existing neuronal network.
Until this study, said the study’s first author Steven Ceto, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Mark H. Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neurosciences and director of the Translational Neuroscience Institute at UC San Diego School of Medicine, neural stem cell grafts being developed in the lab were sort of a black box.
Although previous research, including published work by Tuszynski and colleagues, had shown improved functioning in SCI animal models after neural stem cell grafts, scientists did not know exactly what was happening.
“We knew that damaged host axons grew extensively into (injury sites), and that graft neurons in turn extended large numbers of axons into the spinal cord, but we had no idea what kind of activity was actually occurring inside the graft itself,” said Ceto. “We didn’t know if