Adult stem cell research advances 16 March 2006
A laboratory rat unable to use its right front paw because of a spinal cord injury struggles to walk across a rope, loses its footing and falls.
Then a rat that had the same injury scurries across the rope without a problem, just weeks after an injection containing adult stem cells from a human nose that were transformed into nerve cells.
The rats are part of a line of research at the University of Louisville that could lead to treatments for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and other nerve disorders.
The rat's improvement after the injection is the second major discovery in the past few months at UofL that promises progress without using embryonic stem cells.
In December, a research team at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center announced it had transformed stem cells from adult mice into brain, heart, nerve and pancreatic cells.
The nasal stem-cell research - published most recently last week in the journal Stem Cells - involves using certain chemicals to direct the cells to become neurons, which send and receive messages between the nervous system and other parts of the body.
"It amazes me still that we can take cells out of a human nose" and help an injured rat recover, said Fred Roisen, a neuroscientist who led the team. "I'm very optimistic."
Experts said the research is unique.
"This one has gone a lot further than the others," said Scott Whittemore, who is scientific director of UofL's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center but is not on Roisen's research team. "This is a major step forward."
Robert Miller, a professor of neuroscience at Case Western University in Cleveland, called the research "quite exciting." He said many studies have involved trying to make existing cells reconnect instead of introducing new neurons that promote recovery.
The UofL researchers said clinical studies in humans could be anywhere from three to 10 years off, and any treatments wouldn't become widely available until after that. But some people who could benefit said they are hopeful.
"This looks very promising," said Pam Kober, a 46-year-old Louisville resident with multiple sclerosis.
Kober found out she had MS in 1999 after having headaches and numbness in her arms. Over the years, the illness has left her unable to drive at night, handle more than one household chore at a time or hold a full-time job.
"Maybe in my lifetime they'll find something that will help," she said.
The cells the team used came from the tissue that allows people to smell. Called the olfactory neurosensory epithelium, the tissue was taken from adults undergoing elective sinus surgery who volunteered for an endoscopic biopsy. The procedure doesn't harm the sense of smell.
Researchers then used compounds to coax the cells into becoming neurons that attached to muscle tissue in the lab. The newly created cells can also produce myelin, a protective coating that insulates the nervous system.
Source: Cincinatti Enquirer Copyright © 1995-2006