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Scientists Pave Way for Nervous System Transplants.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have demonstrated that living human nerve cells can be engineered into a network that could one day be used for transplants to repair damage to the nervous system.

"We have created a three-dimensional neural network, a mini nervous system in culture, which can be transplanted en masse," explained Douglas H. Smith, MD, Professor, Department of Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at Penn. He is senior author of a report on the work, published in the February issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Although neuron transplantation to repair the nervous system has shown promise in animal models, there are few sources of viable neurons for use in the clinic and insufficient approaches to bridge extensive nerve damage in patients. In previous work, Dr. Smith's group showed in a rat model that they could induce tracts of nerve fibers called axons to grow in response to mechanical tension. Now, they are applying this technique to living human nerve cells, obtaining human dorsal root ganglia neurons to engineer into transplantable nervous tissue.

These neurons were harvested from 16 live patients following elective ganglionectomies, and four thoracic neurons were harvested from organ donors. The neurons were purified and placed in a specially-designed growth chamber. Using a stretching technique, the axons were slowly pulled in opposite directions over a series of days until they reached a desired length. The neurons survived at least three months in culture while maintaining the ability to generate action potentials, the electrical signals transmitted along nerve fibers. The axons grew at about 1 millimeter per day to a length of 1 centimeter, creating the first engineered living human nervous tissue constructs.

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Publication:Transplant News
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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