Combining partially differentiated stem cells with gene therapy can promote the growth of new "insulation" around nerve fibers in the damaged spinal cords of rats, a new study shows. The treatment, which mimics the activity of two nerve growth factors, also improves the animals' motor function and electrical conduction from the brain to the leg muscles. The finding may eventually lead to new ways of treating spinal cord injury in humans. The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.
The new study provides the best demonstration to date that producing a nerve-insulating substance called myelin can lead to functional improvements in animals with spinal cord injury. Previous studies have shown that the loss of myelin around nerve fibers contributes to the impaired function after a spinal cord injury. However, until now it has not been clear whether promoting new myelin growth in the spinal cord can reverse this damage, says Scott R. Whittemore, Ph.D., of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, who led the new study. "Many other investigators have suggested that remyelination is a possible approach to repair the spinal cord, but this is the first study to show unequivocally that it works," says Dr. Whittemore. "It is a proof of principle." Although the finding is promising, much work remains before such a technique could be used in humans. The study appears in the July 27, 2005, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Cao Q, Xu X-M, DeVries WH, Enzmann GU, Ping P, Tsoulfas P, Wood PM, Bunge MB, Whittemore SR. "Functional recovery in traumatic spinal cord injury after transplantation of multineurotrophin-expressing glial-restricted precursor cells." Journal of Neuroscience, July 27, 2005, Vol. 25, No. 30, pp. 6947-6957.
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