Michael G. Fehlings, Krembil Research Institute, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada

“Next Generation” Stem Cell Therapy for Cervical Spinal Cord Injury: iPSC-Derived Neural Precursor Cells Optimized to Modulate the Injury Microenvironment

Funded in: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020

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Problem: There is no cure for SCI, stem cells have shown therapeutic potential

Target: Specific stem cells and their capacities for regeneration

Goal: Development of stem cell technology for therapeutic use


Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating injury that is currently without a cure. Cervical (neck) SCI (cSCI) accounts for majority of spinal injuries and frequently results in devastating impairments or death. cSCI can be due to an acute traumatic injury (often a fall or car crash) or a chronic progressive injury (caused by age-related spinal degeneration). My research focuses around three integrated themes, Protection, Preservation and Regeneration of the injured spinal cord. These themes mirror the time dependent progression of cSCI from the first hours to several months following injury and aim to generate new time responsive treatment strategies. In this grant proposal my work is focused on the Regeneration of injured spinal cord specifically of cells lost following injury and the promotion of new neural networks; with the ultimately goal being the restoration of upper and lower limb function. To this end I am developing a stem cell therapy for both acute traumatic and chronic cSCI. Stem cells have the ability to repair and regenerate the injured spinal cord and promote patient recovery. However, at present several barriers exist when using stem cells for cSCI. These include the poor survival of transplanted stem cells and presence of scar tissue around the region of injury. I am developing stem cell technology that is designed specifically to overcome these barriers and treat cSCI. These unique cells; termed Spinal Microenvironment modifying and Regenerative Therapeutic (SMaRT) cells, represent the cornerstone of my approach. I believe that SMaRT cells transplanted into the injured spinal cord will result in the regeneration of spinal cord cells and neural networks promoting the meaningful long-term functional recovery for individuals with SCI.