A research team from Tel Aviv University’s Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology has successfully 3D engineered human spinal cord tissue and implanted it in a laboratory mouse with long-term chronic paralysis, the first time this has happened.
Best of all, the results have been extremely encouraging, with about an 80 percent success rate in restoring the ability to walk, according to the study published in Advanced Sciences.
The technology used for this feat is based on taking a small biopsy of belly fat tissue from the patient, which is made up of cells along with an extracellular matrix. “After separating the cells from the extracellular matrix, we genetically reprogram the cells and turn them into a state that resembles embryonic stem cells, which are cells that are capable of becoming any type of cell in the body,” explains the research leader, Professor Tal Dvir, in a press release.
“From the extracellular matrix, we created a custom hydrogel that would evoke no immune response or rejection once implanted. We then encapsulated the stem cells in the hydrogel and transformed the cells into 3D neural network implants with motor neurons in a process that mimics the development of the embryonic spinal cord.”
Subsequently, the mice were implanted with human spinal cord implants. The laboratory models were divided into 2 groups, those who had been paralyzed for a short time (acute model) and those who had been paralyzed for a long time (the chronic model). After implantation, all lab models with acute paralysis and 80% of people with chronic paralysis were able to walk again.
“This is the first case in the world where implanted human tissue has resulted in recovery in an animal model of long-term chronic paralysis, which is the most relevant model for the treatment of human paralysis,” said Professor Dvir.
This could be a game changer for millions of people around the world who are paralyzed due to spinal damage and have yet to find proper treatment. The scientists aim to “produce personalized spinal cord implants for each paralyzed person, allowing regeneration of damaged tissue without the risk of rejection.
The researchers are now preparing for the next step of the study, which include clinical trials in human patients. They hope to be able to implant the modified tissue in paralyzed people within a few years, so they can stand and walk again.