LONDON, April 10, 2014 — Paralysis caused by a motor neuron disease or spinal cord injury understandably causes feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and despair. But there is optimism in a new technique that can artificially control paralyzed muscles using light.
The technique, developed at University College London and King’s College London could potentially restore the function of muscles afflicted by motor neuron disease or spinal cord injury.
UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers created new nerve cells in the brains and spinal cords of living mammals without the need for stem cell transplants to replenish lost cells.
Although the research indicates it may someday be possible to regenerate neurons from the body’s own cells to repair traumatic brain injury or spinal cord damage or to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers stressed that it is too soon to know whether the neurons created in these initial studies resulted in any functional improvements, a goal for future research.
Motor commands issued by the brain to activate arm muscles take two different routes. As the research group led by Professor Silvia Arber at the Basel University Biozentrum and the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research has now discovered, many neurons in the spinal cord send their instructions not only towards the musculature, but at the same time also back to the brain via an exquisitely organized network. This dual information stream provides the neural basis for accurate control of arm and hand movements. These findings have now been published in Cell.
The progress a baby makes in the first year of life is amazing: a newborn can only wave its arms and legs about randomly, but not so long after the baby can reach out and pick up a crumb from the carpet. What happens in the nervous system that enables this change from random waving to finely coordinated movement? Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried near Munich, working with colleagues from New York and Philadelphia, have described a new type of nerve cell in mice which provides a valuable insight into this developmental phenomenon. During embryonic development, the projections from these cells grow from the spinal cord towards the brain. They may pave the way for other nerve cells which control voluntary movement and which only grow from the brain into the spinal cord after birth.
Finding a solution for brain and spinal cord injury
The Fournier lab at the Montreal Neurological Institute is working to answer a fundamental question: what happens after a nerve cell gets injured? Damage to nerve cells in the central nervous system (CNS), which consists of the brain and the spinal cord, often means permanent damage due to these cells’ limited capacity to repair and regenerate.
Unlike many other cells in the human body, adult nerve cells in the CNS cannot spontaneously repair. Hence, damage to the spinal cord can result in permanent paralysis to the body parts below the site of injury.
Protocol may open new avenues for cell-replacement therapies for neurological conditions
LA JOLLA, CA—For more than 20 years, doctors have been using cells from blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after childbirth to treat a variety of illnesses, from cancer and immune disorders to blood and metabolic diseases.
Now, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found a new way-using a single protein, known as a transcription factor-to convert cord blood (CB) cells into neuron-like cells that may prove valuable for the treatment of a wide range of neurological conditions, including stroke, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury.
Among stem cell biologists there are few better-known proteins than nestin, whose very presence in an immature cell identifies it as a “stem cell,” such as a neural stem cell. As helpful as this is to researchers, until now no one knew which purpose nestin serves in a cell.
In a study published in the Jan. 30, 2011, advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience, Salk Institute of Biological Studies investigators led by Kuo-Fen Lee, PhD., show that nestin has reason for being in a completely different cell type–muscle tissue. There, it regulates formation of the so-called neuromuscular junction, the contact point between muscle cells and “their” motor neurons.
Electronic “bridge” could one day assist paralysis patients.
Until recently, severe spinal cord injuries came with a fairly definite diagnosis of paralysis, whether partial or complete. But new developments in both stem-cell therapy and electronic stimulation have begun to provide hope, however distant, that paralysis may not be a life sentence. Complicated muscle stimulation devices can enable limited standing and walking, and the first embryonic stem-cell trials began last year. Other techniques, however, may provide an even simpler solution.
Newswise — The spleen, an organ that helps the body fight infections, might also be a source of the cells that end up doing more harm than good at the site of a spinal cord injury, new research suggests.
Considering the spleen’s role in the after-effects of spinal cord injury could change the way researchers pursue potential treatments for these devastating injuries.
(Reuters) – StemCells Inc has filed for Swiss regulatory approval for the first clinical trial of its nerve stem cells in patients with spinal cord injuries as much as a year old, the company said.
It expects to enroll about a dozen patients whose injuries are between three and 12 months old.
“To date, the focus has been on the acute spinal cord injury phase,” StemCells CEO Martin McGlynn said in a telephone interview. “That’s an important area to address, but the largest unmet need is those who have passed that immediate acute phase of injury.”