For the first time, scientists discovered that a specific type of human cell, generated from stem cells and transplanted into spinal cord injured rats, provide tremendous benefit, not only repairing damage to the nervous system but helping the animals regain locomotor function as well.
The study, published today in the journal PLoS ONE, focuses on human astrocytes – the major support cells in the central nervous system – and indicates that transplantation of these cells represents a potential new avenue for the treatment of spinal cord injuries and other central nervous system disorders.
We’ve shown in previous research that the right types of rat astrocytes are beneficial, but this study brings it up to the human level, which is a huge step, said Chris Proschel, Ph.D., lead study author and assistant professor of Genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
What’s really striking is the robustness of the effect. Scientists have claimed repair of spinal cord injuries in rats before, but the benefits have been variable and rarely as strong as what we’ve seen with our transplants.
To create the different types of astrocytes used in the experiment, researchers isolated human glial precursor cells, first identified by Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D., associate professor of Genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and exposed these precursor cells to two different signaling molecules used to instruct different astrocytic cell fate – BMP (bone morphogenetic protein) or CNTF (ciliary neurotrophic factor).