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New Study: Stem Cell Grafts Hold Promise for Spinal Cord Injuries

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By Farhan Malik, MD
Atlanta Innovative Medicine

A new study published in Cell Stem Cell has found that implanted neural stem cells can form connections between themselves and with the host’s neural network in mice. This means there is possibly a new, effective way of repairing spinal cord injuries.

How does it work?

Spinal cord injuries have been notorious for being difficult to repair. Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have identified a promising solution in the development of stem cell grafts, which essentially ‘patch-up’ the damaged area. Once the area is repaired, calcium imaging is used to follow the development of new stem cells which are then integrated into the host’s nervous system.

The success in repairing these injuries is due to the development of new calcium imaging techniques. Calcium imaging is a technique used to measure the calcium status of a cell. Since calcium helps the brain communicate with neurons, they were able to track the connections between grafted stem cells and the host’s neurons. The scientists in this study made use of optogenetics, the use of light to control neurons that have been genetically modified, to stimulate and record the neurons.

If it works on mice, will it work on humans?

Although this new study was done using mice, researchers are pushing to further investigate the use of stem cell grafts to repair spinal cord injuries. More research will be conducted to improve the application method of stem cell grafts to create new connections.

Mark H. Tuszynski, professor of neurosciences and director of the Translational Neuroscience Institute at UCSD School of Medicine, stated “While the perfect combination of stem cells, stimulation, rehabilitation, and other interventions may be years off, patients are living with spinal cord injury right now. Therefore, we are currently working with regulatory authorities to move our stem cell graft approach into clinical trials as soon as possible. If everything goes well, we could have a therapy within the decade.”

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