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Human spinal cord cells help rats with Lou Gehrig’s disease


Human primitive spinal cord cells delayed symptoms and paralysis by a week when implanted in the spinal cord of rats destined to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, researchers from Johns Hopkins report.

The human neuronal stem cells were obtained from embryos by scientists at biotech company Neurostem Inc., transferred to Hopkins and implanted into the lower part of the rats’ spinal cords about a month before the animals usually develop muscle control problems characteristic of ALS. The treatment delayed the animals’ death by 11 days. Research associate Leyan Xu, Ph.D., is scheduled to present the results Oct. 23 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.

"This rat model of ALS progresses very rapidly -- within two or three weeks of symptoms appearing, the rats have to be euthanized -- so the delay we saw is quite significant," says the study’s senior author, Vassilis Koliatsos, M.D., associate professor of pathology, neurology, neuroscience and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Hopkins. "Our study is proof of principle, that neuronal stem cells do have potential in conditions caused by separation within the nervous system, whether by disease or injury."

The next step, he says, is to see whether a more aggressive treatment approach might further improve the outcome -- for example, combining low spinal cord implants as done in this study and grafts higher in the spinal cord to target the nerves that control breathing.

Joanna Downer | EurekAlert!
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