First primate study: stem cells mature into nerve cells in rhesus monkeys with SCI, improve grip — 6 insights

Written by Shayna Korol | February 28, 2018 | Print  |

Researchers grafted human spinal cord-derived neural progenitor cells into cervical spinal cord injury sites in rhesus monkeys in a study in Nature Medicine. The human stem cells matured into nerve cells in the monkeys, spurring neuronal connections and improving the monkeys' grip.

Here are six things to know.


1. According to The Scientist, most of the work on transplanting neural stem cells had been performed in rats up to this point. This study is the first to demonstrate the treatment in primates.


2. Researchers cut into a section of the rhesus monkeys' spinal cord. Two weeks later, they inserted a graft of human neural progenitor cells into the injury site, The Scientist reports.


3. Under three-drug immunosuppression, grafts survived at least nine months after the injury and expressed both neuronal and glial markers. Monkey axons regenerated into the grafts and formed synapses.


4. Hundreds of thousands of human axons extended out from the grafts through monkey white matter and synapsed in distal gray matter. The grafts gradually matured over nine months. Forelimb function began to improve several months after grafting.


5. According to the researchers, these "preclinical trial" findings support translating NPC graft therapy to humans in order to reconstitute a neuronal and glial milieu in the spinal cord injury site.


6. The research team is now working on the next set of studies to verify the results and determine the best type of stem cells to use in humans, according to The Scientist.


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