Stem cells graft in spinal cord, restore movement in paralyzed mice

Scientists at Johns Hopkins report they've restored movement to newly paralyzed rodents by injecting stem cells into the animals' spinal fluid. Results of their study were presented at the annual meeting of The Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans.

The researchers introduced neural stem cells into the spinal fluid of mice and rats paralyzed by an animal virus that specifically attacks motor neurons. Normally, animals infected with Sindbis virus permanently lose the ability to move their limbs, as neurons leading from the spinal cord to muscles deteriorate. They drag legs and feet behind them.

Fifty percent of the stem-cell treated rodents, however, recovered the ability to place the soles of one or both of their hind feet on the ground.

"This research may lead most immediately to improved treatments for patients with paralyzing motor neuron diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and another disorder, spinal motor atrophy (SMA)," says researcher Jeffrey Rothstein, M.D., Ph.D. "Under the best research circumstances," he adds, "stem cells could be used in early clinical trials within two years."

"The study is significant because it's one of the first examples where stem cells may restore function over a broad region of the central nervous system," says neurologist Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., who led the research team. "Most use of neural stem cells so far has been for focused problems such as stroke damage or Parkinson's disease, which affect a small, specific area," Kerr explains.

In the rodent study, however, injected stem cells migrated to broadly damaged areas of the spinal cord. "Something about cell death is apparently a potent stimulus for stem cell migration," says Kerr. "Add these cells to a normal rat or mouse, and nothing migrates to the spinal cord."

In the study of 18 rodents, the researchers injected stem cells into the animals' cerebrospinal fluid via a hollow needle at the base of

Contact: Marjorie Centofanti
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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