Cell-Based Repair of the Injured Nervous System

Our cell-based repair program is exploring a spectrum of approaches to repair of the nervous system, using transplanted cells including a variety of myelin-forming cells, and several types of stem cells. In one project, we are building upon the observation that spinal cord injury can result in necrosis and axonal degeneration within parts of the spinal cord, while axons within the white matter tracts outside of the necrotic core survive but become demyelinated. In the absence of myelin, these damaged axons are unable to conduct nerve impulses. Loss of myelin leading to impaired conduction also occurs in multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease of the CNS that alone affects approximately 300,000 people in the US, including 35,000 US Veterans, today. CNRR scientists are investigating transplantation of myelin-forming cells into the site of injury as an approach to induce remyelination of demyelinated axons and thereby restore impulse conduction. In another project, a team of scientists led by Dr. Jeffery Kocsis, is exploring the use of human mesenchymal stem cells, derived from the adult bone marrow, as an approach to repair of the injured brain and spinal cord. For example, we have shown that these autologous cells—administered intravenously—can limit the damage of brain injury in animal models of stroke, improving functional outcome. Our goal is to extend these investigations in human clinical trials.