Ronaldo Ichiyama, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Boosting production of endogenous stem cells in the spinal cord to enhance recovery from spinal cord injury

Funded in: 2015, 2016, 2017

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Problem: The production of endogenous stem cells within the spinal cord is limited.

Target: Boosting the production of these cells in combination with rehabilitative training.

Goal: Providing new routes beyond the site of injury leading to improved functional recovery.


It is now known that new cells are born within the adult spinal cord. After a spinal cord injury there is an increase in the production of new born cells which mostly become part of the scar tissue around the lesion. However, this increased production returns to low levels once the scar is matured.

In this project, the team wants to take advantage of the capacity of the spinal cord to produce new cells by inducing cell proliferation using a pharmacological compound boosted by exercise. They will apply the pharmacological agent, which interacts with a specific type of cholinergic receptor, in the chronic stage of injury, after the scar is stable and mature. Their hypothesis is that new born cells will help provide new routes for reconnecting the brain to the spinal cord below the level of injury. They will determine the fate of these new born cells by determining what cell type they become (neurones, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, etc.), their final location and whether they become part of a functional network.

The clinical implications of this project can be far reaching. Ronaldo Ichiyama is proposing a new way to enhance the spinal cord’s own capacity to create new cells in the chronic stages of spinal cord injury. Even minimal changes in neuronal function at this stage may have large effects on functional recovery especially when combined with other interventions such as rehabilitation.