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Transplanted neural stem/precursor cells instruct phagocytes and reduce secondary tissue damage in the injured spinal cord

Transplanted neural stem/precursor cells possess ‘therapeutic plasticity’ and can simultaneously instruct several therapeutic mechanisms in addition to cell replacement. In a recent paper published in Brain, Cambridge neuroscientists working in the lab of Dr Stefano Pluchino (pictured right) at the Brain Repair Centre and Stem Cell Initiative have interrogated the therapeutic plasticity of neural stem cells after their focal implantation in the severely contused spinal cord using a mouse model of spinal cord injury. Using two different doses and two treatment schedules of stem cell transplantation, this study identifies a previously undescribed capacity of neural stem cells to survive transplantation while establishing cellular contacts with endogenous professional phagocytes through junctional coupling. This was associated with a significant reduction of the proportion of ‘classically activated’ (M1-like) macrophages while promoting the healing of the injured cord.

Dr Pluchino said: “This study identifies a precise window of opportunity for the treatment of complex spinal cord injuries with therapeutically plastic somatic CNS stem cells, and suggests that neural stem/precursor cells (NPCs) have the ability to re-programme the local inflammatory cell microenvironment from a ‘hostile’ to an ‘instructive’ role, thus facilitating the healing or regeneration past the lesion.”

These data represent a further piece of rationale for the future translation of NPC-based therapeutics in phase I clinical trials in humans suffering from spinal cord injuries.

Dr Pluchino’s laboratory (in collaboration with 10 other European labs) has recently been awarded a European 7th Framework Programme grant worth €4,000,000 over 3 years. This project will focus on the definition of the safety and efficacy profiles of next generation implantable organic nano-electronics (iONE) for spinal cord regeneration, both in vitro and in vivo in mice with spinal cord injury.

Posted on 07/02/2012

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