For the first time, researchers have enticed transplants of embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons in the spinal cord to connect with muscles and partially restore function in paralyzed animals. The study suggests that similar techniques may be useful for treating such disorders as spinal cord injury, transverse myelitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and spinal muscular atrophy. The study was funded in part by the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
The researchers, led by Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, used a combination of transplanted motor neurons, chemicals capable of overcoming signals that inhibit axon growth, and a nerve growth factor to attract axons to muscles. The report is published in the July 2006 issue of Annals of Neurology.*
"This work is a remarkable advance that can help us understand how stem cells might be used to treat injuries and disease and begin to fulfill their great promise. The successful demonstration of functional restoration is proof of the principle and an important step forward. We must remember, however, that we still have a great distance to go," says Elias A. Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health.
"This study provides a 'recipe' for using stem cells to reconnect the nervous system," says Dr. Kerr. "It raises the notion that we can eventually achieve this in humans, although we have a long way to go."
In the study, Dr. Kerr and his colleagues cultured embryonic stem cells from mice with chemicals that caused them to differentiate into motor neurons. Just before transplantation, they added three nerve growth factors to the
Contact: Natalie Frazin or Paul Girolami
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke