Astrocytes Used in Spinal Cord Injury
Researchers at from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and colleagues from the University of Rochester Medical Center have discovered that rats who receive transplants of astrocyte (or nerual support) cells recover from spinal cord injury much more than rats who do not. The astrocytes were generated from glial restricted precursor stem cells and developed in culture, then transplanted into the cuts in spinal cords of rats. There were two comparison groups; one received no treatment, and one received undifferentiated stem cells.
The rats that received the astrocytes had a 40% growth of nerve fibers across the cuts. They also had less scar tissues and other damaged tissue. It also prevented many of the neurons in the brain whose corresponding nerves in the spinal cord had been cut from degenerating. The rats who received the astrocytes were able to walk normally after two weeks, while the rats who received the stem cells alone still had impaired movement four weeks later.
Obviously this is a significant finding. The press releases are on EurekAlert; the first
, from the Journal of Biology
(an open access journal) gives the information I have summarized above. The second release
is from The University of Rochester Medical Center. It reports that more than 60% of the nerve fibers regenerated and that over 2/3 of them grew across the injury site. (For anyone wondering about the apparent discrepancy, 2/3 of the regenerated fibers are equal to the 40% cited above). It also reports that the glial stem cells were embryonic in origin.
There’s also a fairly lengthy UPI article about it on the Monsters and Critics
website (and other sites). It gives some background on the problems of scarring in spinal cord injury; the body develops scar tissue to prevent infections, but that keeps the nerve fibers from regenerating. Researchers say it will be a while before this can be tried in humans; one of the issues, according to the UPI story, is the lack of availably embryonic stem cells.
It seems like a really important study not only because of the results but because of the potential strategy in working with other kinds of injury. If stem cells can be given an extra kick to get them started in the right direction, that may be an important step.
As an aside, it’s not getting much media hype yet—there are only 9 stories on Google right now, and some of them are the same. I am glad that it's being published in an open-access journal, as that enhances the spirit of collaborative research.