Main findings of this work
The spinal cord can be compared to a highway, allowing information to flow, in the form of nervous impulses, from the brain to rest of the body and vice-versa. When the spinal cord is injured, most of the times as a consequence of an accident, its structural integrity is affected causing the disruption of the nervous connections and impulses within. This has a major impact on SCI patients as it leads to severe motor deficits, as well as other complications. The vast majority of such injuries are unrecoverable, as unlike most human body tissues, the central nervous system as has a low capacity for regeneration.
In order to overcome this problem and to induce regeneration in the spinal cord tissue, the team of this work, coordinated by António Salgado and Nuno Silva from the Life and Healtn Sciences Research Institute (ICVS) and ICVS/3B’s Associated Laboratory, School of Medicine, University of Minho, Portugal, developed a multidisciplinary strategy in which two different cell populations (Adipose Tissue derived Stem Cells – ASCs - and Olfactory Ensheating Cells – OECs) were first embedded in a biodegradable hydrogel, which simultaneously had a protective function on the transplanted cells, while was able to allow the growth of new nervous structures (axons) in its structure. ASCs and OECs were the selected cell population because the first are known to secrete important growth factors that stimulated nervous tissue regeneration, particularly axons, while the second guides the growth of the newly born axons.
This work was funded by Prize Melo e Castro for Spinal Cord Injury Research – Santa Casa Neuroscience Awards – attributed by Santa Casa da Misericórida de Lisboa and was a result of a collaboration with Prof. Jeffrey Gimble, Tulane Medical School (USA) and Prof. Molly Shoichet, University of Toronto Canada.
Link for the work:
E.D. Gomes, S.S. Mendes, H. Leite-Almeida, J.M. Gimble, R.Y. Tam, M.S. Shoichet, N. Sousa, N.A. Silva, A.J. Salgado. “Combination of a Peptide-modified Gellan gum Hydrogel with Cell therapy in a Lumbar Spinal Cord injury Animal Model”. Biomaterials, (2016), 105: 38-51
Relevance/impact of this work for the society
With this work it was possible to show that through the use of an innovative multidisciplinary strategy it was possible to partially induce the functional recovery of the spinal cord tissue, and with it improve the motor function of an animal model of SCI. In the future, if this strategy proves reliable for clinical translation, this could implicate a functional improvement in SCI patients (SCI, GI tract, Urinary tract, etc) and thus in their quality of life. However the lead authors of the work would like to highlight that this was the first study in animal models, which needs to be further validated before its translation to the clinical setting.
Future perspectives of this work
In this work we use a model of partial SCI in rats. At present we are conducting similar experiments in a contusion SCI rat model. In the future we will be focusing on testing this strategy in large animal models in order to take this possible therapy one step closer to the clinical setting.
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