Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bladder Management, Age Tied To Urinary Stones In Men With Spinal Injury

A variety of factors, including age at injury and type of bladder drainage, appear to influence the risk of urinary stone formation in men with spinal cord injury, Korean researchers report in the April issue of the British Journal of Urology International.

Dr. Hong B. Shim of Seoul Veterans Hospital and colleagues note that recent medical advances have greatly increased survival in such patients. However, they are prone to urological complications, particularly stone formation.

To help characterize underlying factors, the researchers retrospectively examined data on 140 men who were injured before 1987. Over 17 years, 39 patients (28%) developed bladder stones and 21 (15%) developed renal stones.

Analysis showed that patients who were 24 years of age or more when injured were significantly more likely to have bladder stones (odds ratio 2.5) than those who were injured when they were younger.

Findings in another model showed that patients with complete injury were at greater risk of renal stone formation (odds ratio, 4.1) than those with incomplete injury.

Renal stones were also significantly more likely in those with neurogenic bladder using indwelling urethral catheterization (odds ratio, 5.7) than in patients who voided spontaneously. The risk was not significantly increased with clean intermittent catheterization or suprapubic cystostomy.

Renal stones were also more common in patients with bladder stones (odds ratio, 4.7).

The researchers acknowledge that the study was retrospective, but Dr. Shim told Reuters Health, "in men unable to use intermittent catheterization or who are unable to void spontaneously, suprapubic cystostomy is better than urethral catheterization to avoid renal stone formation."
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Stem-cell tech improves spinal-cord injury

(UPI) -- A new stem-cell technology has allowed rats with spinal-cord injuries to walk again within two weeks, an advance that could one day help people with traumatic spinal-cord injuries.

The rats that were given immature immune system support cells, or astrocytes, experienced a 40-percent rise in nerve-fiber growth at the site of the injury in just eight days.

'This is the first time an astrocyte has been generated in tissue culture and shown significant recovery of function,' said lead author Dr. Stephen Davies, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

'Stem cell technology is moving at a tremendous space at the moment, and this (study) makes advances in how to use that technology.'

The research, funded in part by the Christopher Reeve Foundation, will appear April 26 in the open-access Journal of Biology.

Scientists have been focusing on using stem cells to repair the central nervous system in humans for several years. By definition, stem cells, either adult or embryonic, can respond to signals in tissue and become cells of that type of tissue. Adult stem cells come from the body`s tissue or organs, and embryonic stem cells derive from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro.

When an injury occurs to the spinal cord, the body creates scar tissue to prevent infection, a mechanism that has little effect on the skin but is disastrous on the spinal cord, Davies said. That`s because scars inhibit nerve-fiber regeneration, creating paralysis.

Due to the scarring, transplanting adult stem cells into a damaged spinal cord does not spur nerve growth.

So Davies and colleagues wondered if they could fine-tune a specific type of embryonic astrocyte -- a type of cell known for its amazing ability to repair itself -- to prevent scarring and encourage nerve growth.

To do this, scientists cultured astrocytes from glial-restricted precursors, or GRPs, a group of cells similar to stem cells discovered by geneticist Margot Mayer-Proschel of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Rats given this specialized astrocyte cell formed less scar tissue and nerve damage, as opposed to the control group that was transplanted with un-cultured cells. Their locomotion also improved to the point where they could walk completely normally up to two weeks after receiving the treatment.

Also exciting, Davies said, was that the brains of the rats also showed improvement. When damage to the spinal cord occurs, neurons in the nerve fibers from the brain to the spinal cord often degenerate. But with the astrocyte transplant there was a significant suppression of degeneration: Up to 80 percent of neurons did not atrophy, Davies said.

Davies` work does not focus on remyelination, a technique of other stem-cell researchers to restore myelin, a substance that protects nerve cells, in the central nervous system. Instead, he focused on changing the structure of the injury site itself. This approach might also promote the central nervous system to re-stimulate certain areas of the spinal cord that were not damaged, for example.

The GRPs are of great interest, and the study reaffirms they are an attractive method for repairing spinal-cord damage, said Dr. Wise Young, a neuroscientist and director of Rutgers University`s W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience.

'This is going to create a lot of excitement in the field,' he said of Davies` work.

Young, a pioneer in treating spinal-cord injury, has organized clinical trials in China, where he plans to test the influence of umbilical-cord blood stem cells in the central nervous system.

'The paper shows very compelling data for moving GRPs to clinical trial as soon as compatible human cells can be obtained,' Young said.

But first, researchers would have to overcome a huge obstacle: the lack of availability of stem-cell lines in the United States. It would take hundreds of thousands of the GRP cells to act in a person, Davies said.

Even so, this could be a short-term dilemma: Young said he is confident that it won`t be long before scientists can make any cell into a stem cell.

'A stem cell is just a cell expressing certain genes, and there`s nothing more mysterious than that. We just have to know what the genes are,' he said.

Davies plans to continue researching the effect of GRPs on rats.

'We have a 40 percent efficiency in (repairing) nerve fibers. I want to see 100 percent,' he said.

Eventually, Davies hopes the new technology can be used to repair central nervous system injuries in people in the future, as well as other neurogenerative diseases.
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Paralysis Cure Worth Waiting For

By Steven Edwards - Wired News

Every time I turn around I seem to read about some paralyzed person who's traveled to a far-flung country for a miracle treatment not available in the United States. "I can now wiggle a toe! I'm improving!" they exclaim.

Meanwhile, I stay put in my wheelchair, albeit restlessly, in Charleston. Having been paralyzed from the shoulders down since suffering a C3 contusion injury to my neck in 1996, you might ask what the heck I'm waiting for. Am I a masochist? Possibly. But have you ever read a follow-up story about long-term functional gains achieved by one of these treatments? If none come to mind, it's not because you have a bad memory.

A recent article in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair offers a sobering explanation. The study examined the results of seven surgeries performed by Hongyun Huang, a doctor in Beijing who treats spinal cord injury patients with cells taken from the olfactory bulb (found inside the nose) of aborted fetuses. Previous anecdotal reports from some of the 600 patients that Dr. Hongyun Huang says he's treated were positive, but had a twinge of irrational exuberance.

Now, the authors of one of only three papers attempting to quantify Huang's results (none of them by Huang) say that "no clinically significant ... improvements were found."

In other words, some $20,000 plus traveling costs later, quadriplegics who shelled out for a procedure they likely could not afford regained no functional use of their arms, wrists, hands and fingers, and no paraplegics regained use of their lower body. (A report published in the journal Spinal Cord noted one quadriplegic demonstrated some minor functional gains, but nothing that significantly improved his quality of life.)

Did I mention that five of the seven patients discussed in the NNR review got bacterial meningitis as a result of the surgery? "Advanced bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, coma and death. Survivors can suffer long-term complications, including hearing loss, mental retardation, paralysis and seizures," according to the Directors of Health Promotion and Education.

I have long been skeptical of offshore treatments promising magical results. Most reasonable people would be. But people facing a life confined to a wheelchair, or perhaps the end of their life, are, understandably, not always reasonable. I certainly have moments when I seriously contemplate signing up for Huang's surgery -- usually when I'm considering the toll my paralysis exacts on my parents, or the sheer frustration of being completely dependent on others. (Do you know how a paralyzed person goes to the bathroom? It's a degrading and humiliating experience. "Bend over and smile!" takes on an even worse meaning.)

The Spinal Cord anecdote I mentioned showed the patient had some motor recovery by two ASIA levels, which are used to grade the severity of spinal cord injuries. For me, two levels of regained motor function -- the maximum one could expect -- would move my current level of motor function from the ability to shrug my shoulders to the ability to give the Handiman salute (Remember Damon Wayans' handicapped superhero character on In Living Color?)

Here are some other reasons why I don't buy a ticket to China: Receiving the treatment could exclude me from future clinical trials. Clinicians running studies have strict criteria regarding who they can include, so they typically want the purest patient they can find, i.e., one that is "normal," so they can be sure any results they see are due specifically to their treatment. Having had fetal cells implanted in my spinal cord would not qualify as normal.

And what if something goes wrong? I don't want to risk being permanently dependent on a ventilator again to breathe for me (I now need it only at night). Plus, I don't have 20 grand lying around. Why put myself in debt for something that won't make me independent?

But many injured people, particularly the newly injured, treat their predicament as a challenge to their machismo. In 2004, Texan Van Golden told the Guardian that although he's against abortion, some good should come from all those aborted Chinese fetuses. "Everyone else offered only to help make me sufficient in that chair," he said. "But the chair is not my destiny. It is not ordained." He reports after the Huang procedure that he's got feeling in his fingers he didn't have before. Later he compares some of that regained feeling to needle sticks. Other patients have also reported that much of their newly acquired sensation is pain.

When I hear stories like that, which are far too common, I remember that waiting for the right treatment is not the same as giving up or letting paralysis win.

Why Huang continues to offer a procedure that doesn't seem to do much good is a mystery. He apparently has good intentions. His father was partially paralyzed by a stroke when Huang was 17. In 1999, he came to the United States to study under Wise Young, a spinal cord injury expert and stem cell researcher at Rutgers University. Huang hoped to one day offer patients something no one gave his dad -- hope.

Time magazine reported in 2004 that after Huang's father became paralyzed following a stroke, "The doctors treated the teen with scorn when he asked for information. Says Huang: 'I decided then that I would become a different kind of physician.'"

After his stint in the United States, he returned to China in 2000 and began treating patients in 2001. His home country's more lenient regulations, as compared to those in the United States, allowed him to immediately use what he'd learned. He has since treated over 500 people suffering from spinal cord injuries, none of whom have gained full or substantial recovery.

"Any improvement is a bonus," Huang told the Technology Review in 2005. Maybe. But if patients are disqualified from promising clinical trials after having undergone Huang's treatment, or if they're suffering more afterwards, maybe not. In that same story, Huang also cautioned that no one should expect a full cure as a result of his current procedure. I hope those considering this treatment listen carefully to the doctor's words of wisdom.
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Spinal Cord Cures in China

China could provide a new network to safely test therapies for paralyzed patients.

By Emily Singer

A growing number of patients are heading to China for experimental therapies, such as cell transplants to treat spinal cord injuries and other diseases. But scientists in the field harshly criticize the trend, saying these therapies are costly, unproven, and potentially unsafe.

Now Wise Young, an internationally recognized expert in spinal cord injury, aims to address some of the problems associated with humans tests involving experimental therapies. He is spearheading a new project to conduct rigorous clinical trials in China and has set up a network of Chinese hospitals to test new treatments for spinal cord injury.

Young, a neuroscientist and director of Rutgers University's W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at in Piscataway, NJ, says the availability of the enormous Chinese population will drastically speed up the clinical trial process, allowing new therapies to be tested more quickly and cheaply. He hopes the network will ultimately provide a go-to testing site for large pharmaceutical companies with new spinal cord injury treatments.

The number of potential new therapies for spinal cord injury has blossomed in the last few years -- dozens of treatments have been shown to regenerate the spinal cord in animal models. But safely testing those therapies is a challenge. For one thing, spinal cord injury is a complex problem; patients often retain partial motor or sensory ability and may spontaneously recover some mobility after the injury.

"Something like blood pressure is easy to assess in a clinical trial -- a pill either brings it down or it doesn't," says John Ditunno, a spinal cord injury expert at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "But the challenge in spinal cord injury is that you're looking at a person's ability to function in real life. That's very complicated."

Clinical testing also requires many patients. With only about 10,000 spinal cord injuries in the United States each year, recruiting for a study is painfully slow. Trials for spinal cord injury treatments in the United States have been held up for years due to slow enrollment. As a result, frustrated patients, buoyed by success stories of experimental therapies not approved in the United States, have begun to travel overseas to gain access to these treatments.

One of best-known practitioners performing such treatments is Hongyun Huang, a controversial Chinese neurosurgeon who has transplanted in about 600 patients what he says are olfactory ensheathing cells, a type of cell that can help regenerate neurons.

Many experts argue that these therapies, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, have not been adequately tested. "There are no controls, no well-defined protocol for post-procedure follow-up," says James Guest, a neurosurgeon and spinal cord researcher with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Guest previously visited Huang's hospital and last month co-authored a critique of the treatment for a scientific journal. "There is relatively little data on what the implants are, what the complications are, or what the outcomes are," he says.

According to Young, who trained Huang when he was a post-doctoral student at Rutgers University, beginning in the late 1990s, this lack of follow-up is symptomatic of the medical culture in China. "Part of the problem in China is there is no system for follow-up," says Young. "When a patient leaves the hospital, [the hospital] doesn't have the resources to get the patient to come back."

Young aims to change this practice with his clinical trial network, which now has 17 participating centers in the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, and plans to begin its first clinical trial in June.

The network has sponsored training sessions for the Chinese doctors involved in the trials, in which U.S. experts taught standardized procedures for assessment of spinal cord injury. "Outcome measure is always the most important thing," says Johan Karlberg, director of the Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Hong Kong, which has extensive experience conducting clinical trials and will oversee the network's projects.

In September researchers plan to start a placebo-controlled trial of lithium, which has been shown to boost cell growth and survival in animal models. The next step, if they get permission, will be a trial of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood transplanted into 300 patients with chronic spinal cord injury. Young says the goal is to register the trials in both China and the United States.

"With this first trial, we want to establish proof of concept that we can take a therapy from the preclinical phase to [late-stage clinical trials] in two years -- which is very fast -- and do it cheaper, faster, and better than anyone else," says Young. "My hope is that once we establish this concept, a company with a promising therapy can come in and get a definitive answer in two years...for $20 million or less." (Young estimates that the network can run trials for about $20,000 per patient for surgery and hospitalization, compared with around $100,000 for a similar U.S. trial.)

"This network has more capacity than any other network in the world," says Young. "We could test 6,000 patients a year if we wanted to." However, capacity will also depend on funding, he says. The network so far relies largely on fundraising and still must raise a significant amount of money to pay for its first round of trials.

"There is probably no one better qualified than [Young] is to think about doing this," says Guest. But it may be difficult to get the different participating centers, which have very different levels of expertise, to operate at the same level, he says. "This will be an alliance between some strong, well-funded centers and other centers who are struggling and under funded, so whether it will work remains to be seen," Guest says.

In addition, the network may not be able to enroll as many patients as predicted, says John Steeves, a spinal cord injury expert at the University of British Columbia. "People think a clinical trial network in China would have tremendous capacity given the population of China," he says. "However, the capacity of the health care system in China does not necessarily match the population, so the ability of a trial to attract appropriate numbers of candidates is limited by the health care system in place."

Young's network is part of broader shift in China, which over the last few years has garnered attention from the pharmaceutical industry. "The clinical trial culture is rapidly changing," says Karlberg of the University of Hong Kong. "China is moving fast into global drug development, and pharma is looking at the growing market in China."

This new interest could bring its own hurdles. The Chinese drug regulation system has evolved in response to the international attention -- the country now has strict regulations governing clinical trials and a permission process that's lengthier than in the United States.

Back in the United States, patients are already clamoring to participate in the Chinese trials. Young moderates a website for spinal cord injury patients and their families, and says the number-one question lately has been about how to participate in these trials. (The website also has a section where people who've gone overseas for experimental treatments chronicle their experiences, both good and bad.)

Young says that U.S. patients will be eligible for the trials. However, they will need to travel to China for the surgery and be available for follow-up exams at six weeks, six months, and a year after the treatment. While they will not have to pay for the procedure, they would need to pay for any care beyond that given to Chinese patients, says Young. As he explains, hospital care is different in China than in the United States, with Chinese families rather than nurses often caring for patients in the wards.

And what about patients eager to find out if Hongyun Huang's controversial treatment really works? Young says the network does not yet have plans to test the cell transplant therapy used by his former student.
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Monday, April 10, 2006

Adult Stem Cell Surgery May have Teen Walking Again Soon

Jacki Rabon was riding with some friends in the back of an SUV in August 2003 when she was thrown out of the vehicle as it veered off the road. She skidded a few feet and landed near a ditch, and her life was suddenly changed.

"Right away, I knew I couldn't feel my legs because I couldn't get up," Rabon, 18, told Baptist Press. "I went to sit up and then my back hurt too bad to sit up, so I knew something was wrong."

She was rushed to one hospital and then another, where she underwent emergency surgery to repair the damage. Her mother had to break the news to Rabon that she was paralyzed.

"I knew there was a possibility before I had surgery, but I asked her after surgery if the doctor fixed it, and that's when she told me that he fixed my back but I still was paralyzed," she said.

"My mom said I didn't talk for a long, long time. I just stared at the walls and I cried a lot. I think what was going through my head was that I would always need help and not be able to do hardly anything and that pretty much my life was over."

But about a year later, Rabon's pastor at First Baptist Church in Waverly, Ill., called the family to tell them he had just watched a special on PBS about a cutting-edge surgery that involved harvesting stem cells from a patient's nose and transplanting them into the site of a spinal cord break.

The procedure was not available in the United States, but at the time at least six Americans had traveled abroad to have Carlos Lima, a neurologist at Hospital Egaz Moniz in Lisbon, Portugal, perform the surgery in hopes of regaining at least some movement.

"At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to have the surgery or not, and then I figured that I needed to because if I never tried then I never would have known what would have happened," Rabon said.

After a series of tests, Rabon learned that she qualified as a candidate for the surgery, which would cost $47,000. Members of her church and community began an intense fundraising effort that eventually yielded the funds for Rabon and her mother to travel to Portugal for the surgery last October.

When Rabon returned home, she went to Detroit for rehabilitation training within two weeks.

"The first day there, I was crawling, and then a couple of days later they had me up on braces walking," she said. "They did a lot with me there, and after the two and a half weeks, I kind of learned what I needed to be doing at home, so we went back home."

Rabon has a couple of machines at home that help her stand and exercise her leg muscles, but a friend from church built a set of parallel bars for her to use. They're set up at the church, and she goes there nearly every day to practice walking.

She reached a milestone March 27.

"On the parallel bars I had just been walking forward and then backing up, and then yesterday I actually walked forward and then turned around and walked back forward instead of backing up. So yesterday was a pretty big day," Rabon told BP.

Her goal is to walk on crutches by the end of the year, and she appears to be well on her way. Beyond that, Rabon said, she hopes someday to walk at her wedding.

One of the hardest parts of her ordeal has been relearning everything she already knew about walking. Learning to balance herself is one of the largest issues, she said, but God has taught her some invaluable lessons through all of the difficulty.

"At first, after the accident, I kind of lost my faith for a little while because it was hard to imagine why God would have done this to me. Mom said the same -- she had a hard time going to church after that and listening to the preacher because she was so upset and didn't understand," Rabon said. "But after a while of being like this, especially when I got to have the surgery after all the prayers and the money was raised, I think my faith is stronger now than it has ever been."

Her mother has taught her to rely on Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me."

"I know what's more important in life now and how not to take things for granted," Rabon said. "I've said before that I think God chose me out of the ones in the accident [to be paralyzed] because I'm the one that had the power and the faith to get through it, and I don't think He chose the rest of them because He knew that I was the one that maybe had more faith and had more determination to get through it."

Rabon's story serves as a tangible example of the medical progress that is being made through adult stem cell research. The procedure Rabon had in Portugal is called olfactory mucosa transplantation and involves removing cells from the nerve that transmits the sense of smell to the brain.

Olfactory tissue covers about one inch of the upper nasal cavity and contains many cells with regenerative potential.

The tissue can diminish over time, so the younger the patient, the better, experts say. Olfactory tissue is removed from the patient's nasal cavity, prepared and then implanted into the spinal cord injury site. The transplanted cells then regenerate efficiently and transform into nerve cells that help repair the spinal cord, and the cells serve as alternatives to using embryonic stem cells for the same purpose.

Lima, the doctor, has said much follow-up work is needed to document long-term benefits and possible delayed side effects of the procedure, but even the smallest amount of restored function can have profound quality-of-life benefits for paralysis patients, he said. Doctors are awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration to perform the surgery in the United States, and Rabon said she hopes that day comes soon.

"I'm still really against abortion, so I'm not for embryonic stem cell therapy. But anything else that doesn't involve killing a baby is great," she said. "I think they should do [olfactory transplantation] in the States because it's just from my own body."

Stem cells are the body's master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, building hope of treatments for numerous afflictions. They may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, fat and placentas. The procurement of stem cells from such sources does not harm the donor.

Embryonic stem cell research is a controversial topic, but proponents are unable to point to someone who has benefited from the research. Meanwhile, lupus, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, Crohn's disease and diabetes are among the ailments that have been successfully treated with non-embryonic stem cells.

Rabon believes there is much hope in adult stem cell research, and she is sure that once the word gets out, more and more people will want to have adult stem cell therapy. So far, she can testify that it has improved her life, and no other lives were harmed in the process.

By: Erin Roach - Baptist Press
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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Experimental procedure could expedite Blackwell's recovery

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The experimental surgery that gives hope to Tara Blackwell and others with spinal-cord injuries is being developed in clinical trials under the direction of Dr. John McDonald, director of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

McDonald was late actor Christopher Reeve's doctor.

His work is part of an international research project that experts hope will result in a simple, outpatient surgical procedure that can speed regeneration of the spinal cord and the recovery of patients with spinal-cord injuries.

Animal tests are under way. It is hoped humans will benefit within a few years.

The activity-based rehabilitation that Blackwell is undergoing at Troy University is the centerpiece of McDonald's work. He also has been involved in tissue transplants in rats.

Joy Dobler, the wife of former NFL star Conrad Dobler, is a fund raiser for Kennedy Krieger and has been a quadriplegic since a fall 4 years ago. She said experiments on rats with severed spinal cords have been dramatic.

"It had a phenomenal response," she said. "He has videos of mice walking on pencils and jumping on cages after spinal injuries that were induced with little ball bearings, completely severing their spines."

Primate studies are in the initial stages, McDonald said. They are based in Bogota, Colombia, and focus on nervous-system genetics and stem cells.

"We're collaborating with that group because of their expertise," McDonald said. "There are aspects of that study that are uniquely doable from a technology standpoint."

The great hope is to develop a universal line of transplantable tissue that will not be rejected by the body. Embryonic stem cells offer the greatest hope because they can be implanted with the DNA of the transplant recipient.

Blackwell's family met the Doblers when Conrad Dobler visited Blackwell's hometown of Pensacola. He was organizing a fund raiser for spinal-cord injury research and assisting spinal-cord injury victims with funding for rehabilitation.

"Joy and Conrad have been like angels to us," said Patsy Blackwell, Tara's mother. "It was a blessing. It was a miracle."

The Doblers helped the Blackwells make the trip to Kennedy Krieger last year for their first meeting with McDonald. Tara and Patsy Blackwell will return to Baltimore this summer, when Tara will undergo a series of tests and procedures. Her goal is to be among the first to participate in the human trials.

Stem-cell research is a controversial topic that has drawn fire from religious and anti-abortion groups, who believe that fertilized embryos constitute human life. McDonald stressed that all stem cells associated with the project to date have been animal.

Tara Blackwell said she has thought deeply about the procedure and is certain that it doesn't constitute the taking of a life.

"I would never want to do anything to kill another person, or to hurt another person to help myself, even if it meant me getting well," she said. "But this can do so much, for so many people. I don't think God would give us this knowledge if He didn't want us to use it."

By: Tom Ensey Montgomery Advertiser
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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.
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