Christopher Reeve would be pleased. Paralysis victims throughout the world may have some cause for hope, according to a study published in the medical journal Annals of Neurology this week.
In a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore, MD, rats that had been paralyzed were able to regain partial use of the paralyzed limb through the use of mouse embryo stem cells injected into them. According to the study, published in the article “Recovery from Paralysis in Adult Rats Using Embryonic Stem Cells” to be published on line June 26, before its release in the July 2006 edition of Annals of Neurology, the researchers introduced motor neurons derived from embryonic stem cells into the spinal cords of the rats. These motor neurons connected the spinal cord with the muscles, and were effective in partially restoring function and mobility to the paralyzed limbs.
The rats used in the study were infected with the Sindbis virus, which caused them to lose motor neurons, which the virus effectively kills in rodents, leaving them paralyzed. The Johns Hopkins research team reported that 11 of the 15 treated rats regained a significant amount of movement and motor function after the stem cell therapy. They report that, although they did not recover complete mobility, the animals did recover enough muscle strength to bear weight and to take steps with the previously paralyzed hind leg.
Led by Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D. of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, this new information potentially holds a key to research future breakthroughs in the reparation of disorders of the spinal cord. The study suggests that similar techniques may be useful for treating such disorders as spinal cord injury, transverse myelitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and spinal muscular atrophy. The study was funded in part by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), reports an NIH press release. According to Kerr, the research may also be instrumental in developing therapies to combat the effects of Multiple Sclerosis, and added that with some adjustments geared specifically to the nervous system, the new approach to regenerating connection between the spinal cord and the muscles may also apply to patients living with Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease.
In an announcement on their website, a press release from the Johns Hopkins University Medical School referred to the research conducted by Kerr’s research team as “a dramatic display of stem cells’ potential for healing,” and described the new, stem cell infused spinal cord, muscle reconnection as fully-working motor neuron circuits.
The research, in which mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells were injected into rats whose virus-damaged spinal cords model nerve disease, shows that such cells can be made to re-trace complex pathways of nerve development long shut off in adult mammals, the researchers say. (John’s Hopkins Press Release; June 20, 2006)
“This is proof of the principle that we can recapture what happens in early stages of motor neuron development and use that to repair damaged nervous systems,” said Kerr.
With stem cell research funding still very much a hot button topic in U.S. legislature, and with bills like the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 still stalled in the Senate, this sort of stem cell research breakthrough could be just what the doctor ordered to energize the government’s response to the research funding question that still pervades throughout the United States.
Christopher Reeve would be very pleased, indeed.