The researchers injected these cells into rats that had experienced a partial injury to the spinal cord that impairs walking ability -- one group seven days after injury and another 10 months after injury. In both groups, the early-stage cells formed into full-grown oligodendrocyte cells and migrated to appropriate neuronal sites within the spinal cord.
In the rats treated seven days after the injury, myelin tissue formed as the oligodendrocyte cells wrapped around damaged neurons in the spinal cord. Within two months, these rats began to show significant improvements in walking ability in comparison to injured rats who received no treatment.
In the rats with 10-month-old injuries, though, motor skills did not return. Although the oligodendrocyte cells survived in the chronic injury sites, they could not form myelin because the space surrounding neuron cells had been filled with scar tissue. In the presence of a scar, myelin could not grow.
These studies indicate the importance of myelin loss in spinal cord injury, and illustrate one approach to treating myelin loss. Keirstead and his colleagues are currently working on other approaches using human embryonic stem cells to treat chronic injuries and other disorders of the central nervous system.
In previous studies, Keirstead and colleagues identified how the body's immune system attacks and destroys myelin during spinal cord injury or disease states. They also have shown that when treated with antibodies to block immune system response, myelin is capable of regenerating, which ultimately restores sensory and motor activity.
Oswald Steward, Gabriel I. Nistor, Giovanna Bernal, Minodora Totiu, Frank Cloutier and Kelly Sharp
Source:University of California - Irvine