Stem Cell Researchers Zero in On Spina Bifida Treatment

Stem Cell Researchers Zero in On Spina Bifida Treatment

Stem Cell Researchers Zero in On Spina Bifida TreatmentUniversity of California Davis (UCD) researchers have moved closer to developing effective stem cell treatments for spina bifida. Newly published research shows that placental mesenchymal stromal cell (PMSC) exosomes secrete protective proteins that can limit nerve damage. This important discovery may explain why their earlier spina bifida treatments on animals succeeded. The team published their findings in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects about 1,500-2,000 babies born each year in the United States.  During fetal development, the spinal column does not close completely. This exposes a part of the patient’s spinal cord and some nerves, in a defect called a myelomeningocele. It also allows brain tissue to sink into the spinal column, and traps cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. The increased cranial pressure from trapped fluid causes brain damage. A common treatment uses permanent shunts to drain the trapped fluid away. Affected patients typically do not have good control over their lower limbs, bowel or bladder and require lifelong care.  Doctors can identify the condition during pregnancy, but effective treatments remain elusive.

Latest stem cell research builds on earlier findings

Spina bifida can occur in both humans and animals. In an earlier experiment, UCD researcher Diana Farmer successfully fixed the characteristic of exposed spinal cord on six fetal lambs. That technique involved a combination of in utero surgical repair and stem cell transplantation. Following birth, the lambs showed good hind leg movement and control.

UCD veterinarians wanted to see if Farmer’s technique would work on two young English Bulldogs with spina bifida. Following stem cell transplantation surgery, both dogs showed good hind limb control and movement. The team did not see improvement in the dogs’ incontinence.

The UCD researchers wanted to know more precisely how stem cells aided damaged nerves. By examining the stem cells, researchers found that they secreted a specific protein that protected and supported the damaged nerves.

Researchers found that stem cell vesicles secreted a certain protein (galectin 1) that helped to protect and repair affected nerves. When they blocked the transmission of galectin 1, the damage worsened. The discovery suggests a potentially effective stem cell treatment that does not require transplantation. The protective protein is a stem cell by-product. By simply providing the protein, an affected patient could receive the same benefit with fewer risks.

The team now has a better understanding of the precise way PMSCs operate on damaged nerves. They hope this new discovery will persuade the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize human clinical trials.

The refinement of the UCD research demonstrates the positive potential role of stem cell therapies for spina bifida patients. If you would like more information about stem cells and the work of the National Dental Pulp Laboratory, please contact us here, or call us at (774) 843-2984.

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