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Spinal injuries in monkeys eased using human stem cells.

TOKYO, Dec. 10 Kyodo


A group of Japanese doctors has for the first time ever succeeded in restoring mobility to monkeys crippled with spinal cord injuries through transplants of neural stem cells from the spinal cords of human fetuses, one of the doctors said Monday.

Hideyuki Okano, a professor in the medical department of Tokyo's Keio University and the leader of the group, said that although the monkeys' spinal cords were not cured, the result of the experiment may have opened the door to curing spinal cord injuries in humans.

Neural stem cells are found in the human brain and spinal cord. They are anaplastic cells that grow into nerve cells.

Injuring the spine by damaging nerves in the spinal cord causes paralysis, such as in the hands and legs. Some 5,000 people injure their spines each year.

Recovering from spinal cord injuries is said to be difficult after symptoms become chronic.

Okano said his group extracted neural stem cells from dead fetuses and multiplied them in test tubes. The group then transplanted the cells into five marmosets who had lost mobility in their hands and feet due to spinal cord injuries.

The monkeys' ability to grip sticks had been less than 10% that of healthy monkeys, Okano said. But eight weeks after the transplant, their ability rose to nearly 50%, he said.

The group believes the mobility was recovered after the neural stem cells grew into nerve cells and connected neural circuits cut by the spinal cord injuries.

The doctors say the success of the transplants was ensured by choosing a specific time. They knew transplanting the cells right after the injury was unsuccessful due to inflammation, as this happened in previous experiments on the marmosets.

The group transplanted the neural stem cells when the inflammation died down but before the symptoms of immobility became chronic, Okano said.

In a similar experiment Okano's group conducted earlier with rats, the group succeeded in recovering the mobility of rats with spinal injuries, according to the group.

The latest experiment was conducted after the ethics committees of the university and other institutions involved in the experiment approved it, the group added.

''Next time, we would like to consider effective cure methods during the chronic period once time has passed after the injury,'' Okano said.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Dec 17, 2001
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