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MAPCs bring lasting improvements after brain injury, pre-clinical study finds

A stem cell therapy previously shown to reduce inflammation in the critical time window after traumatic brain injury also promotes lasting cognitive improvement, according to a pre-clinical study reported in the current issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Cellular damage in the brain after traumatic injury can cause severe, ongoing neurological impairment and inflammation. Few pharmaceutical options exist to treat the problem. About half of patients with severe head injuries need surgery to remove or repair ruptured blood vessels or bruised brain tissue.

A stem cell treatment known as Multipotent Adult Progenitor Cell (MAPC®) therapy, has been found to reduce inflammation in rats immediately after traumatic brain injury, but no one had yet gauged its usefulness in promoting recovery of neurological function over time. Now, a group of scientists studying that question has come up with a preliminary answer.

A research team led by Charles Cox, Jr., M.D. of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and scientists from Athersys, Inc., the biotechnology company developing the cellular theraphy, injected two groups of brain-injured rats with MAPC cells two hours after the rats’ brains were injured and again 24 hours later. One group received a dose of 2 million cells per kilogram and the other a dose five times stronger.

After four months, the rats receiving the higher dose not only continued to have less inflammation—they also made significant gains in cognitive function. A laboratory examination of the rodents’ brains confirmed that those receiving the higher dose of MAPC therapy had better brain function than those receiving the lower dose.

“Based on our data, we saw improved spatial learning and motor deficits and reduced inflammation in the rats that were given the stronger concentration of MAPCs,” Dr. Cox said.

The finding indicates that intravenous injection of MAPC therapy may someday become a viable treatment for people with traumatic brain injury, he said.

A Small Business Innovation Research agreement with Athersys, an Ohio biotechnology company developing regenerative therapies, and grants from Brown Foundation Inc. and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital Foundation funded the research reported in the study.

“Although preliminary, these findings offer evidence that this cell therapy can attenuate chronic neuro-inflammation and improve long-term cognitive functioning after traumatic brain injury,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.