Friday, April 07, 2006

Techniques Push Stem Cells to Repair Damaged Nerves

Two new studies suggest that use of cells derived from bone marrow, as well as a seaweed-derived product called hydrogel, may prompt stem cells to repair nerve damage caused by stroke or spinal cord injury.

Both studies were expected to be presented Friday at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, in San Diego.

In one study, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, examined bone marrow-derived multi-potent progenitor cells, which have the ability to develop into different kinds of cells, including nervous system cells.

Both human and rat bone marrow cells were transplanted into rats with induced strokes. Both types of cell transplants led to a reduction in motor impairments in the rats, the researchers reported.

In neonatal rats, the transplanted cells migrated out from the transplant sites toward another nearby brain region. The Georgia team found no evidence of tumor formation, a potential adverse effect of stem cell transplantation.

In the second study, German researchers found that "anisotropic capillary hydrogel" (ACH), made of a seaweed derivative, could direct stem cells to align in the proper direction along the spinal cord. That's important, they said, because misdirected or undirected cells limit the ability of injured nerves to reconnect with other nerve cells further down the spinal cord.

"ACH represents a promising strategy to induce nerve regrowth following spinal cord injury. Several additional strategies could be used to promote the success of this therapy, including adding various growth factors and drugs to the gel to enhance nerve cell growth," Dr. Norbert Weidner, of the University of Regensburg, said in a prepared statement.