Researchers at Rutgers University have successfully created a biodegradable scaffold that will help to deliver drug therapy and stem cells throughout the body.
This new development may mean new ways to treat neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. The new therapy may also benefit those who have suffered spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
There is no cure for these conditions and many others that affect the central nervous system.
"Most treatments for diseases that affect this part of the body only help to reduce symptoms or slow down the progression of the disease," said Dr. Bill Johnson, a Dallas, Texas, stem cell physician.
Stem cell therapy has shown significant benefits as a way to treat these and other conditions that affect the nervous system.
"Stem cells help in many cases where conventional treatments cannot because they can help repair damaged tissue and reduce inflammation. These two things are often at the center of neurodegenerative diseases," Johnson said.
But stem cell therapy has its constraints; in some cases, stem cells taken from neural tissue as part of treatment do not survive, are often not in abundance and require proliferation in a laboratory or do not fully differentiate into the cells needed for repair.
Hence, the Rutgers research. Their bio-scaffold mimics natural tissue and can help support newly differentiated cells populating areas that have been damaged by illness or injury.
The Rutgers research, which has been published in the journal Nature Communications, has shown promise both in test tubes and mice.
"The ability to deliver large numbers of stem cells to areas that need repair is a significant step in being able to overcome these injuries and disease," Johnson said.
Since using more stem cells may mean a more significant benefit, Johnson uses a type of stem cell that is in abundance in most individuals: fat stem cells.
"Most people have areas of unwanted fat that can serve as a donor site for their treatment," Johnson said.
For a few reasons, according to Johnson.
"In addition to being in abundance, fat stem cells are easy to access compared to other body areas that may contain stem cells," Johnson said.
Instead of requiring an invasive procedure to harvest stem cells, fat stem cells are collected through a specialized form of liposuction.
"Harvesting cells in this manner helps to reduce stress on the patient," Johnson said.
Once collected, the cells are handled with care until being returned to the patient.
"Minimal processing of the cells helps to increase their chance of survival," Johnson said.
The Rutgers researchers, working in conjunction with clinicians and neuroscientists, hope to test their new stem cell delivery system in animals soon. If their testing proves effective, they plan to test their product in clinical trials for individuals living with spinal cord injuries.
Spinal cord injuries frequently occur as a result of accidents, such as falls, vehicle crashes or sports injuries. During a spinal cord injury, the spinal cord itself can become severely bruised, partially severed or severed completely.
Any degree of injury to the spinal cord can negatively impact an individual's ability to move and respond to stimuli.
"Spinal cord injuries can also cause difficulty breathing and interfere with the ability to digest food. Some individuals living with spinal cord injuries also experience urinary and fecal incontinence because their injury disrupts the body's autonomic systems," Johnson said.
According to SpinalCord.com, there are approximately 17,500 new spinal cord injuries every year in the United States, and statistics show that between 245,000 and 353,000 people in the U.S. are living with a spinal cord injury as of 2017.
Rutgers University. "Advance stem cell therapy with biodegradable scaffold: New technology is aimed at central nervous system diseases and injuries." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2018.
SpinalCord.com. 2017 Spinal Cord Injury Statistics You Ought to Know
6 January 2018.