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Myelin Repair for Nerve Damage and Paralysis with Spinal Cord Stem Cell Transplants

July 19th, 2006

Myelin Repair for Nerve Damage and Paralysis with Spinal Cord Stem Cell Transplants


A study from the University of California Irvine along with colleagues at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center shows that using stem cells to repair spinal cord injuries and damage do not cause further damage.  The research was first reported in the current issue of Regenerative Medicine.

“Establishing the safety of implanted embryonic stem cells is crucial before we can move forward with testing these treatments in clinical trials,” said Hans Keirstead, an associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology and co-director of UCI’s Stem Cell Research Center. “We must always remember that a human clinical trial is an experiment and, going into it, we need to assure ourselves as best as we can that the treatment will not cause harm. This study is an important step in that direction.”


In this study, the researchers found that rats with mild or severe spinal cord injuries were able to receive therapy treatment that originated from human embryonic stem cells.  The rats did not show and visible injury or any ill side effects due to the treatment.  This study further confirms the same results as it has been replicated by four other laboratories around the world.

Kerstead’s lab was the first to isolate oligodendrocytes, which are highly pure specialized that come from human embryonic stem cells.  Oligodendrocytes are the building block of myelin, which are a cover for the nerve fibers and is necessary for regulating the electrical pulses in the central nervous system.  Paralysis can occur when the myelin is removed or destroyed through disease or injury.

This study replicated what first occurred in the orginal study.  The rats that had sever spinal cord injuries were injected with the oligodendrocytes seven days after they had been injured.  The specialized cells were transported to the locations in the spinal cord that were then able to wrap around the damaged neurons allowing for new myelin tissue to grow again.


The rats that were only mildly impaired did not show any improvement or worsening in myelin.  Their condition seemed unchanged after the transplant of the oligodendrocytes.  Keirstead reported that these injuries were so minor that there was no loss of myelin and was the reason there were no benefit for this group of rats.  There was no damage caused by the treatment surrounding the spinal cord.

“Our biggest safety concern was that in the case of a severe injury, any harm the stem cell-derived treatment could cause would be masked by the injury itself,” Keirstead said. “In this study, we can see in animals that are only slightly injured that the transplantation does not cause visible harm and the injury is not hiding any damage the cells may have caused to the spinal cord or the surrounding tissue.”

Keirstead is currently working with Geron Corporation to help get Phase I clinical trials for acute spinal cord injuries by next year.

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