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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Stem Cells and Nerve Damage

Published March 25, 2014 4:27 PM by Michael Jones

Regenerative medicine is a field that seems like something right out of the pages of science fiction. In a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), researchers studied the effect -- and subsequent success -- of stem cells derived from human muscle tissue in repairing nerve damage in mice. A UPMC press release detailed the study and speculated on the potential impacts to the healthcare industry given the results of the experiment.

“This study indicates that placing adult, human muscle-derived stem cells at the site of peripheral nerve injury can help heal the lesion,” said Johnny Huard, PHD, senior author and professor of orthopedic surgery, UPMC School of Medicine. “The stem cells were able to make non-neuronal support cells to promote regeneration of damaged nerve fiber.”

According to the release, the study involved creating a quarter-inch defect in the sciatic nerve of test mice and then treating with “cultured human muscle-derived stem/progenitor cells” injected into the damaged nerve. It noted that treatments for peripheral nerve damage have had limited success so far, so the introduction of a successful treatment utilizing regenerative medicine techniques is a promising start -- even if it was only in the preliminary stages of testing. Not only did the treated mice experience full regeneration in the nerve, but the study also found that the mice eventually experienced a restored gait.

“Even 12 weeks after the injury, the regenerated sciatic nerve looked and behaved like a normal nerve,” commented Mitra Lavasani, PHD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the UPMC School of Medicine and author of the study. “This approach has great potential for not only acute nerve injury, but also conditions of chronic damage, such as diabetic neuropathy and multiple sclerosis.”

The ability to heal living organisms simply by using their own biological materials puts modern science in view of fictional pipedreams. The early success of tests incorporating regenerative medicine could potentially make room for uses in healthcare for humans. The press release specified injury repair and the developments of “delivery systems, such as gels,” and a prospective next step in healing larger areas. 

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