Nasal Stem Cell Research
If you’re interested in spinal cord injury treatments with stem cells, you probably already know about the procedures in Portugal which transplant stem cells from the nasal cavity to the injured area of the spine. Now researchers at the University of Louisville in Kentucky have performed similar experiments on rats. The Louisville Courier
has an extensive article on the procedure.
In the experiment, stem cells from the area known as the “olfactory neurosensory epithelium” were donated by patients undergoing sinus surgery. The cells were then coaxed into becoming neurons that can attach to muscle cells and also produce myelin, the protective sheathing for the nerves. The cells were then added to a biological jelly, which was injected into rats who had been subjected to a spinal injury that caused them to lose the use of their right paw. Twelve weeks later, the rats treated with the stem cells were using both front paws, while the rats in the control group were using their left front paw only and struggled to climb or walk across the rope.
One of the key differences between this study and other studies is that this was focusing on creating new neurons, rather that re-connecting existing neurons. The researchers said that clinical studies in people were probably 3-10 years away.
This seems like an exciting and important development. Among some of the other factors that are going to need to be followed up on are duration of recovery (12 weeks seems pretty long lasting for a rat, but let’s see), if the treatment works when the injury occurred a significant amount of time prior to the treatment (can they give it to the rats in the control group now and see if they improve?), finding out if the rats become cancer-prone after the treatment, and deriving effective methods for the differentiation to occur. This may already be well under way, but if there is excessive difficulty in controlling the differentiation, that will delay treatment options.
It also will be important to see if this kind of procedure is effective with neural degenerative disorders, or if it will only work in cases of injury.