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Stem cell integration for recovery

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The usage of stem cells holds a huge potential for promoting recovery after a spinal cord injury. Numerous experiments showed that the transplantation of neural stem cells can improve recovery. Scientists could see that both damaged and brought in cells are extending new axons but couldn’t tell if they made functional connections.

A sharp tool
Besides a specific imaging technique, Steven Ceto in Mark Tuszynski`s lab used optogenetic stimulation. This is a new technique allowing to both stimulate and record the activity of genetically and anatomically defined neuron populations with light. Doing so, they knew exactly which grafted or host neurons were monitored. Amazingly, the scientists could see that the transplanted neurons were well integrated and that they apparently created what appeared to be a normal structure. Stimulation of brain areas usually involved in movement could activate these neurons. Likewise, sensory stimulation could also activate the transplanted neurons via light touch or pinch. Authors conclude that neural stem cells, once grafted have the remarkable ability to self-assemble into spinal cord-like neural networks.

Next steps
Prof Tuszynski and his team will now explore approaches to enhance the creation of a new network that will mimic the regular structure of the spinal cord. Additional research is therefore needed before moving into clinical testing, which will hopefully happen in the near future.

This study was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell and was supported by Wings for Life.

Source: Ceto S, Sekiguchi KJ, Takashima Y, Nimmerjahn A, Tuszynski MH. Neural Stem Cell Grafts Form Extensive Synaptic Networks that Integrate with Host Circuits after Spinal Cord Injury. Cell Stem Cell. Volume 27, ISSUE 3, P430-440.e5, September 03, 202.

You can find out more on the spinal cord and the influence of its damage on the human body in our basic-information. Wings for Life Glossary gives an understanding of scientific terms.