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Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury with Embryonic Stem Cells

Acute spinal cord injury can be treated by transplanting human embryonic stem cell without any harm, according to a recent study by UC Irvine researchers.//

UCI neurobiologist Hans Keirstead and colleagues at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center found that rats with either mild or severe spinal cord injuries that were transplanted with a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells suffered no visible injury or ill effects as a result of the treatment itself. Furthermore, the study confirmed previous findings by Keirstead's lab - since replicated by four other laboratories around the world - that replacing a cell type lost after injury improves the outcome after spinal cord injury in rodents. The findings are published in the current issue of Regenerative Medicine.

"Establishing the safety of implanted embryonic stem cells is crucial before we can move forward with testing these treatments in clinical trials," said Keirstead, an associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology and co-director of UCI's Stem Cell Research Center. "We must always remember that a human clinical trial is an experiment and, going into it, we need to assure ourselves as best as we can that the treatment will not cause harm. This study is an important step in that direction."

In 2005, Keirstead's lab was the first to coax human embryonic stem cells to become highly pure specialized cells known as oligodendrocytes. These cells are the building blocks of myelin, which acts as insulation for nerve fibers and is critical for maintenance of electrical conduction in the central nervous system. When myelin is stripped away through disease or injury, paralysis can occur.

In this study, as in the original one, when the rats suffering from severe spinal cord injury were injected with the oligodendrocytes seven days after injury, the cells migrated to the appropriate sites within the spinal cord and wrapped around the damaged neurons, forming new
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