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Stem Cells Help Paraplegic Rats Recover Movement

The six were among 12 rats that researchers from the University of California, the VA Medical Center in San Diego and the Spinal Cord Injury Center at Heidelberg University Hospital (Germany) treated with NSI-566, a stem cell line produced by Neuralstem, Rockville, Md. All animals in the study experienced lower-body paralysis after undergoing spinal transections. The six were assessed over seven weeks and compared to a control group that had not received transplants.

According to the study, rats treated with NSI-566 showed significant locomotor recovery, with more than half — 57 percent — of the grafted cells turned into neurons. The study reports that the transplanted neural stem cells turned into neurons, which grew a "remarkable" number of axons that extended for "very long distances" over 17 spinal segments, making connections both above and below the point of severance. These axons reached up to the cervical region (C4) and down to the lumbar region (L1).

They also appeared to make reciprocal synaptic connectivity with the host rat spinal cord neurons in the gray matter for several segments below the injury.

"The fact that these cells induce regeneration of axons and partial recovery of motor function makes them relevant for testing for the treatment of human spinal cord injury," Karl Johe, Ph.D., Neuralstem's chairman and CSO, said.

According to the paper, published in the current issue of Cell, retransecting the spinal cord immediately above the graft abolished functional gain, a finding that Neuralstem said indicated that the regeneration of host axons into the human stem cell graft was responsible for the functional recovery.

The company has submitted an application to the FDA for a trial to treat chronic spinal cord injury with NSI-566.

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