PITTSBURGH, March 18, 2014 – Stem cells derived from human muscle tissue were able to repair nerve damage and restore function in an animal model of sciatic nerve injury, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings, published online today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggest that cell therapy of certain nerve diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, might one day be feasible.
To date, treatments for damage to peripheral nerves, which are the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, have not been very successful, often leaving patients with impaired muscle control and sensation, pain and decreased function, said senior author Johnny Huard, Ph.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery, and Henry J. Mankin Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery Research, Pitt School of Medicine, and deputy director for cellular therapy, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
"This study indicates that placing adult, human muscle-derived stem cells at the site of peripheral nerve injury can help heal the lesion," Dr. Huard said. "The stem cells were able to make non-neuronal support cells to promote regeneration of the damaged nerve fiber."
The researchers, led by Dr. Huard and Mitra Lavasani, Ph.D., first author and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, Pitt School of Medicine, cultured human muscle-derived stem/progenitor cells in a growth medium suitable for nerve cells. They found that, with prompting from specific nerve-growth factors, the stem cells could differentiate into neurons and glial support cells, including Schwann cells that form the myelin sheath around the axons of neurons to improve conduction of nerve impulses.
In mouse studies, the researchers injected human muscle-derived stem/progenitor cells into a quarter-inch defect they surgically created in the right sciatic nerve, which controls right leg movement. Six weeks later, the nerve had fully regenerated in stem-cell treated mice, while the untreated group had limited nerve regrowth and functionality. Twelve weeks later, treated mice were able to keep their treated and untreated legs balanced at the same level while being held vertically by their tails. When the treated mice ran through a special maze, analyses of their paw prints showed eventual restoration of gait. Treated and untreated mice experienced muscle atrophy, or loss, after nerve injury, but only the stem cell-treated animals had regained normal muscle mass by 72 weeks post-surgery.
"Even 12 weeks after the injury, the regenerated sciatic nerve looked and behaved like a normal nerve," Dr. Lavasani said. "This approach has great potential for not only acute nerve injury, but also conditions of chronic damage, such as diabetic neuropathy and multiple sclerosis."
Drs. Huard and Lavasani and the team are now trying to understand how the human muscle-derived stem/progenitor cells triggered injury repair, as well as developing delivery systems, such as gels, that could hold the cells in place at larger injury sites.
Co-authors of the paper include Seth D. Thompson, B.S., Jonathan B. Pollett, Ph.D., Arvydas Usas, M.D., Aiping Lu, M.D., Donna B. Stolz, Ph.D., Katherine A. Clark, B.S., Bin Sun, Ph.D., and Bruno Péault, Ph.D., all of the University of Pittsburgh.
The project was funded by National Institutes of Health grants AR049684 and NS081724-01, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Henry J. Mankin Endowed Chair for Orthopaedic Research at the University of Pittsburgh, the William F. and Jean W. Donaldson Chair at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the Hirtzel Foundation, and the Pittsburgh Claude Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.
About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.
Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see http://www.medschool.pitt.edu. http://www.upmc.com/media
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